Wednesday, January 02, 2013
The French Connection
Based on the book by Robin Moore, The French Connection is the story of two New York City detectives who go on the hunt to bust a French smuggling ring in their city. Directed by William Friedkin and screenplay by Ernest Tidyman, the film is an exploration into how two narcotic officers try to bust a smuggling ring through their own unconventional tactics while dealing with those who are targeting them. Starring Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, and Marcel Bozzuffi. The French Connection is a chilling yet entrancing thriller from William Friedkin.
In Marseilles, a criminal named Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is planning to smuggle a large shipment of heroin to New York City with his accomplice Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) and a famous French TV actor in Henri Devereaux (Frederic de Pasquale) to help out. Meanwhile, undercover narcotic agents Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) are in Brooklyn watching over a drug transaction as they capture a young man who reveals where the drug connection comes from. Later at a bar, Doyle and Russo eye a man named Salvatore “Sal” Baca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his wife Angie (Arlene Farber) as they were sitting at a table with mobsters as the two follow them where it becomes clear that Baca is operating a business behind their diner. Learning about their criminal records, Doyle is convinced that something is happening as they notice the appearance of famed mob lawyer Joel Weinstock (Harold Gray) with Baca.
After Doyle’s informant reveals about a large shipment of heroin coming to New York City, Doyle and Russo go to their supervisor Walt Simonson (Eddie Egan) to wiretap and follow the Bacas about what they’re doing. Simonson brings in federal agent Mulderig (Bill Hickman) to the case as he and Doyle have an intense dislike towards one another. With the cops watching Baca, Doyle notices Charnier for the first time as he tries to follow him yet Charnier is fully aware of what is going on as he decides to toy with Doyle. With Baca concerned about the trade as he learns he’s being watched, Charnier decides to make some moves by getting Nicoli to get rid of Doyle. Yet, Doyle learns that he’s being targeted as he and Russo go on the case to follow Baca where they see him switch cars as Doyle believes something is in that car that will help make or break the as he goes after Charnier.
The film is about a couple of NYC narcotic agents trying to discover a smuggling ring led by a French criminal who is masterminding everything. Yet, they deal with all sorts of things as it becomes clear that not only does this mastermind is aware of their every move but he becomes a greater challenge to the police where he would do whatever it takes to make they screw up. For Popeye Doyle, it’s all about trying to stop a drug trade from happening and getting this mastermind and take him to justice. What happens is that he finds himself taking on the greatest challenge of his career.
Ernest Tidyman’s screenplay has a very unique approach to the narrative where its first half moves back and forth from France to New York City where Charnier is planning everything while Doyle and Buddy Russo are doing their jobs and eventually discover about this smuggling ring that’s going to happen. Doyle and Russo are men who are willing to bring down the drug trade as they would also do things that often has fellow cops and other questioning their tactics. Still, it brings in results as they go by instinct as they’re aware that not everything is as simple as it seems. By uncovering this smuggling ring that’s about to happen, they take their time to see how it plays out where things become much more complicated in the second half.
Notably as Charnier finally arrives in the U.S. where he becomes aware that there’s cops following him yet he is someone who is willing to play along and do whatever to piss them off. He knows that the American partners he’s working with are scared yet he is the most calm as he can deal with a situation and is willing to do anything to get rid of the problem. By targeting Doyle, Charnier eventually realizes that he’s facing an opponent that is determined to do whatever it takes to go after Charnier. The film’s climatic scene involving the transaction and the police becomes one of the most chilling moments where it is about a showdown between Doyle and Charnier and who will outwit who.
William Friedkin’s direction is truly mesmerizing in the way he presents the film from the opening scene in Marseilles, France where a cop tries to go after Charnier only to lose and then cuts to New York City to establish what kind of cops Doyle and Russo are. Friedkin starts the film off very slowly to see how Charnier discusses his plans as it then goes to America where Doyle and Russo watch someone to see what he’s doing as they realize something is up. While the film is shot largely on location to maintain a sense of realism through hand-held cameras as it includes a few running chase scenes. It does have this air of intimacy to see how Doyle and Russo work together and the relationship they have where Russo isn’t as aggressive as Doyle while Doyle is more determined making their relationship unique.
The film’s second half is more intense as it involves a lot of following how Charnier and Doyle try to outwit each other in a scene at a subway station. It is one of the most intriguing moments in film that doesn’t require a lot of stylish cutting. Then comes one of the film’s most unforgettable moments where an assassin tries to kill Doyle as Doyle goes after him leading to one of the most gripping and intense car chase scenes ever. It’s all about Doyle trying to go after this train that is above him to capture the killer where it’s all about what Doyle isn’t trying to hit where he would nearly get killed in the process. This would eventually lead to this elaborate presentation where Doyle and Charnier would finally come face-to-face once again yet the results would eventually show something that would be complicated. Overall, Friedkin creates a gripping yet exhilarating suspense film that just refuses to play by the rules.
Cinematographer Owen Roizman does excellent work with the film‘s photography from the sunny look of Marseilles to the more grimy look of early 1970s NYC in its nighttime scenes. Editor Gerald B. Greenberg does brilliant work with the editing to utilize methodical cuts for its slow, suspenseful moments while using more stylish cuts for the film‘s car chase scene. Art director Ben Kasazkow and Edward Garzero do terrific work with the look of Charnier‘s home in France to the look of the hotels he lives in while Doyle lives in a more grimy apartment.
Costume designer Joseph Fretwell III does nice work with the costumes from the street clothes of Doyle and Russo to the more refined suits of Charnier. The sound work of Theodore Soderberg and Christopher Newman is fantastic to play out the suspense from the intimacy of the conversations to the chaos that occurs in the chase scene. The film’s music by Don Ellis is wonderful for the way it plays off its suspense with its piano and low-key orchestra to build things or to take charge in the intense moments.
The casting by Robert Weiner is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Benny Marino as Boca’s cousin, Ann Rebbot as Charnier’s wife, Patrick McDermott as the drug chemist testing the heroin, Harold Gray as mob lawyer Joel Weinstock, Arlene Farber as Boca’s wife Angie, Frederic de Pasquale as the French actor who works with Charnier unaware of what he’s carrying in the car, and Eddie Egan as Doyle and Russo’s superior Walt Simonson. Bill Hickman is excellent as the federal agent Bill Mulderig who criticizes Doyle and Russo’s tactics as he often goes into blows with Doyle. Marcel Bozzuffi is wonderful as Charnier’s hitman Nicoli who is aware of how things go wrong while Tony Lo Bianco is very good as the low-level criminal Sal Boca who deals with phone taps and other issues that he feels could jeopardize the deal.
Fernando Rey is superb as Alain Charnier as a man who is the mastermind behind the smuggling ring as he finds a worthy opponent in Doyle as he does whatever he can to outwit in the most charming of ways. Roy Scheider is great as Buddy Russo who is the more professional of the two detectives as he tries to keep Doyle in tact while backing him up when he knows something isn’t right. Finally, there’s Gene Hackman in a magnificent performance as Popeye Doyle as a detective whose unconventional tactics has gained him the ire of some people yet he always bring results as he faces his greatest challenge in Charnier while doing whatever it takes to do what is right.
The French Connection is an outstanding film from William Friedkin that features incredible performances from Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, and Fernando Rey. The film is definitely among one of the great suspense-thrillers of the genre that features one of the most unforgettable chase scenes in cinema. It’s also a thriller that doesn’t play by the rules while keeping the audiences intrigued by everything that is happening. In the end, The French Connection is a tremendous film from William Friedkin.
William Friedkin Films: (Good Time) - (The Birthday Party) - (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) - (The Boys in the Band) - The Exorcist - Sorcerer - (Brink’s Job) - Cruising - (Deal of the Century) - To Live and Die in L.A. - (Rampage (1987 film)) - (The Guardian (1990 film)) - (Blue Chips) - (Jailbreakers) - (Jade) - (12 Angry Men (1997 TV film)) - (Rules of Engagement) - (The Hunted (2003 film)) - Bug (2006 film) - Killer Joe
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