Adapted from the book The French Connection by Robin Moore, this film won a whole host of awards after its release in 1971 including 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman), Best Film Editing (Gerald B Greenberg) and Best Actor for Gene Hackman who plays Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a role that cemented his international status as an actor. Supported by Roy Scheider, they are a couple of cops who stumble across a plan for a large heroin shipment. The otherwise streetwise cops appear to become slightly out of their depth and Doyle becomes dangerously obsessed to a French connection in the plot, a man whom he terms “Frog 1”.
Even with dramas like The Wire taking us down alley-ways we’d otherwise not go down, this film still packs an impressive punch 40 years on. It’s locations are gritty and real. I imagine the dialogue has been made more watered down and universal than it otherwise may have been, but not that you’d notice. The shots and action are everything you’d want them to be – indeed after it’s huge success at the Academy Awards, I imagine this film set the benchmark to which many other cop films and TV series were set. And that includes the fact that it contains one of the most impressive car chase sequences of its time. Well, actually a car chasing a subway train as it runs on the elevated track above it. To my mind, only the movie The Blues Brothers beats it (and that was probably an homage to the one in this film anyhow).
Hackman is enjoyable to watch and even though his character is quite un-PC for this day and age, he is still our affable hero throughout, though it is questionable by the end. All in all, an enjoyable film. About as fun as Die Hard and that’s a compliment. But I am left a little bemused as to why it did so well at the Oscars because I didn’t think the Academy went for “cop film shoot’em ups” – obviously they do. Or did.
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