The French Connection is the 8th movie I have watched from my AFI top 100 movies. William Friedkin directed this film and it was released in 1971. An interesting tidbit about this movie is that it was the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won the Academy Award for Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Moreover it was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Supporting Actor (Roy Scheider).
The movie is about two New York detectives, “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider). One night while at a bar, Popeye notices a man, Salvatore “Sal” Boca, and his gut tells him that the guy is dirty. Popeye convinces Cloudy to wait outside for Sal to leave so they can tail him. Which they do and Sal does appear to be involved in some illegal activities, but what those activities are is not clear. But Popeye likes to follow his gut. After doing some digging, they find out that Sal had killed a guy and had robbed a store. They start following him around. A connection is made between Sal and Joel Weinstock who is thought to have dealings with the smuggling of narcotics. As it turns out, Sal and Weinstock are involved with French drug smugglers who are trying to sell premium heroin worth $32 million.
All this sounds exciting. And there are exciting scenes in the movie. This movie has one of the best car chase scenes I have seen. Popeye is chasing a hit man who just tried to shoot him. The hit man boards an elevated train. Popeye forces a civilian to give him his car and he proceeds to chase the train on the street below the elevated train. There are wrecks, there are close calls…it is a gripping chase scene.
My one complaint about the film is that this movie is all action. I’m not saying that I don’t like action flicks, but I was surprised that a movie that did not actually develop the characters or the plot is on the AFI list and that it received several Academy Awards. The only character you learn anything about is Popeye. He is fanatical, sometimes dangerous, and maybe slightly crazy. Fortunately the action comes at you fast so I didn’t notice while watching the film that there is no development of a story.
It wasn’t until after I watched the film that I started to think about the lack of character and plot development. During the movie, I was doing my best to keep up with the action. Having said all this, would I recommend the film? Yes but with the caveat that this is an action flick. The story and the characters really don’t matter. What matters is the speed of what happens next.