Monday, February 17, 2014

Oscar Month: The French Connection (1971)

If you look back to my posts last February, you'll see a lot of them that are labeled "Oscar Month." Last year, the idea was to go back and look at films that were nominated or won the Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards. I'm bringing that back as we approach the Oscars again, and this time, I'm starting with the Best Picture Winner of 1971, William Friedkin's The French Connection. In addition to winning Best Picture, The French Connection won Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman) and Best Film Editing. It was nominated for an additional three Oscars. After a decade in which the Academy made some bad choices (Oliver over 2001, In the Heat of the Night over The Graduate, etc.), they got back on track when they chose The French Connection. It's an exceptional, exciting cop drama that hasn't aged one bit.

The French Connection tells the story of two NYC narcotics agents: Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy Russo (Roy Schieder). The two cops are cracking down on heroin and cocaine distribution on the streets and become aware of a deal involving a local shop owner/drug dealer named Baca (Tony Lo Bianco). The deal is worth over half a million and could make a lot of money. Baca is dealing with an investor, Joel Weinstock, who could deal the drugs out. He's also dealing with the supplier, Alain (Fernando Rey), a wealthy heroin smuggler from France. Doyle and Russo are determined to stop the massive deal from going down, and are determined to let nothing stand in their way.

The French Connection is a somewhat complicated film. There are lots of interconnecting characters and a lot of different people involved with the deal. However, when you're watching it, the film doesn't feel complicated. It's just hard to write a plot summary of the film. It's a tremendously thrilling and exciting film with spectacular action sequences, good pacing and great acting. It truly is a bona fide classic and will be for years to come.

Gene Hackman anchors the film and is quite fantastic, but he has a strong supporting cast to back him up as well. Fernando Rey is good as the drug supplier from France and makes for a despicable villain. Roy Schieder is also very good as Buddy "Cloudy" Russo, Popeye's partner. Each character feels fully fleshed out despite the fact that you never learn very much about any of them. Popeye and Cloudy both have a distinctive personality and that comes from the acting involved. Hackman truly deserved the Oscar for this role.

The pacing on this film is also astonishing. Many films from the late '60s and early '70s can be rather slowly paced, but not this one. It's exciting and heart-pounding from the word go and it never lets up. There really isn't a mystery involved in this film and there's no question about who did the crime. The French Connection is much more interested in how Popeye is going to stop these guys.

There are also some truly spectacular action scenes in this movie. The scenes work as spectacle, but the action is also very tense and thrilling. A car chase scene late in the film is regarded as one of the best ever by some critics, and truly is. For a movie made in the early '70s, The French Connection has some great action scenes that hold up better than some action scenes from movies in the mid-to-late '90s.

The tone of this film is also perfect. It's gritty and intense, but it does become slightly humorous at times. Friedkin did a great job with this film. Each scene is filmed exceptionally well and he sticks with his tone and pace throughout the whole movie. It's a consistent thrill ride from beginning to end.

The French Connection is undoubtedly a great action movie. I've seen this movie twice now and have been thrilled and excited by it each time. The acting is great, the pacing and tone is unique and thrilling and the direction is fantastic. I wholeheartedly recommend checking The French Connection out if you haven't seen it. I think that it's a movie that everyone will love.


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