Dir: William Friedkin (The Exorcist)
Oscars also went to Friedkin and Gene Hackman for this gritty and realistic protrayal of narcotics agents attempting to foil a heroin transaction. Justly famous for its car chase underneath an elevated train, this film had ripened in my mind over the shockingly large number of years since I had seen it to the blooming magesty of the most finely scented roses. The car chase held up grandly; but I am not so sure that the rest of the movie fared as well.
All right, this is going to be one of the those failures of high expectations that aren't really failures at all. The film is historically monumental, one of the first portrayals of cops who are as dirty as the criminals. It also exposes the prejudices of the anti-hero, forcing us to appreciate Hackman's Popeye Doyle for his craft but loathe him for his attitude. The realism of the stakeouts is a daring move by the director, with long patches of cops standing around waiting for the criminals to do something, juxtaposing in one fantastic scene Hackman eating a slice of pizza in the cold while the drug dealers dine on steak and fine wine. Intellectually, I heartily endorse such an approach that remains narratively sophisticated in what could have been a standard cop movie.
And yet, 35 years it came out, The French Connection is suffering from its imitators. Such accounts of crime and punishment are now so common that they lack punch. Every episode of Law and Order explores the same themes that were groundbreaking for this film! While I grant this film its historical importance and know that it is essential viewing for that reason alone, I did not find myself moved as viscerally as I had hoped.
My criteria for a good film is that it move me. Somewhere, anywhere, I don't care. I want to finish feeling differently than when I began. The bigger the shift, the better the film. And through no fault of its own, The French Connection does not move me as much as it could, as much as it no doubt moved those who were never exposed to this sort of thing. There are several movies like this for me, but Animal House sticks out. Too many Frat Boy adventure movies have made it harder to laugh at the inventiveness of that film.
Sure, one of the most important movies ever, with great acting and cracking direction. But not transcendent. My historical moment renders me jaded. I am a product of my time and a flawed moviegoer.