Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The French Connection Review

For some films it comes easy, the ability to lay my thoughts out as soon as it ends. The words just come flowing out with passion and not always because I loved the film. Sometimes the easiest movies to write about are the ones I loathe, the experiences that push just the right buttons to make me vent. Where the challenge comes in for me are those very good to great experiences that don't quite elicit the over the moon enthusiasm but they also did pretty much nothing wrong either. Thus sums up my the 24 hours between when I finished my first ever viewing of The French Connection and now when I finally told myself, just start typing whatever comes to mind. So here we are.

I keep fighting how to put this contradiction I had with The French Connection into words exactly because it makes sense to me but others may think, what the hell is this guy talking about? See, I somehow found the film deserves recognition for being fast paced and exciting and yet it felt ponderous at times as well. How is this possible? That's the tricky part. See, for much of the run time I was totally invested in the story of Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Russo (Roy Scheider) as they attempt to shut down the source of heroin finding its way into the U.S. from overseas, yet some of the cat and mouse the cops are always just a step behind the bad guys stuff felt redundant, as if I was watching a couple sequences on repeat hoping for a different result each time.

A part of me wants to credit these very moments I complain about because they did invoke a sense of realism to the picture, that not everything is high speed and adrenaline fueled and all about good guys getting the job done. Sometimes a good guy can be doing good work and still fall short, but I instead of appreciating this during the actual experience, I found myself waiting for The French Connection to kick it into high gear. The good news? It does so during a final act that is not only memorable, it is masterful, with iconic moments with Doyle behind the wheel chasing down a train speeding ahead right above him and the thrilling sensation hanging over ever frame that nothing predictable is going to happen as the final scenes wind down. I had no idea who would get caught, who would get away and who would make it out alive, and I got lost in the excitement. 

I knew before I ever hit play that the film took home the trophy for Best Picture, but I honestly had no idea what other areas were recognized. It didn't take long for me to think, I sure hope Hackman was in the mix for his incredible performance and sure enough he, too, walked away with the prize. His strange blend of being heroic and yet unhinged, a convincing turn as an obsessed cop willing to do anything to collar his man was special to witness. The music beautifully assists the uneasy feeling of watching "Popeye" Doyle because rather than be a series of conventional pieces that would seemingly "fit" a 70's crime thriller, Don Ellis puts together a really odd, uncomfortable score that haunts and and hints at the ominous possibilities moving forward. Even when I felt those moments of disappointment at the lack of forward movement with the investigation, the score built the tension and rattled my nerves.

Another Oscar winner here is director William Friedkin and to say it was well deserved recognition is an understatement. His craft is so meticulous and on point that it actually almost does him a disservice because by creating such a smooth and fluid experience, it almost feels too easy at times. It's the subtleties that won me over, like the way we as an audience tend to stick with one side or the other rather than frenetically shown both parties in the same sequence. As the cops stalk the streets attempting to be inconspicuous, we see the shady activity from the police perspective. The mouths move but we can't hear the words. The movements feel guilty but we aren't let into what is exact transpiring in the moment. We can only guess and make assumptions based on what we know, which is exactly what the police would really be doing as well when facing such circumstances. We are let into the world of these criminals and their drug operation but only behind closed doors, like we are a fly on the wall watching something unfold that we shouldn't be privy to.

The French Connection is a great film that completely changed the idea of what a cop movie is going forward, yet it didn't hit quite as hard as I hoped. Perhaps it boils down to far too elevated expectations, after years of hearing the title and the praise that accompanies it I expected a greatest of all time experience rather than just simply great. Either way, there is very little to criticize and a lot to love here.


No comments:

Post a Comment