Thursday, January 05, 2006

The French Connection

1971 Oscar Winner Best Picture

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.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 1/05/2006 04:20:00 PM that...

Given the argument that imitators may lessen an original's emotional punch, does Star Wars suffer the same effect? And if not, why not?  

Blogger paroske noted on 1/06/2006 01:23:00 PM that...

It does not.

First, there is a personal and emotional connection to that film, forged in childhood, that trumps all imitations.

Second, I'm not sure anyone has done the Star Wars thing any better than Star Wars did. There have been lots of quality cop movies since TFC that rival it, but is any movie more dynamic and visually stunning than Star Wars? The appeal of that film is not in the story, really, but in the effects. And, as a recent trip to the see them in Boston has proven true, those models are the greatest ever, and no technology has been able to better that way of doing effects. Yet.


Blogger maxwell noted on 1/06/2006 05:02:00 PM that...

I read an article raving about how important this movie was and rented it last year.

I watched it and it seemed kind of boring -- until I started to notice some of the grimy stuff that Marcus points out. The long boring shots are part of the movie's mood -- stuck looking for leads that UNLIKE Law and Order don't pop out obviously.

Since I worked in Poughkeepsie it was useful to have some ability to converse about the film when people dropped what was all they knew about the beautiful Hudson valley city -- Popeye's "Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?".

When I watched the commentary I realized that the director shot the crazy car chase scene himself -- on an illegal shoot racing through manhattan weaving through traffic. I went back and watched the car-chase-train scene and had serious sweat on my palms.

What is funny about the movie is the tiny amount of drugs and money that are the center-piece of the plot.

Good review MAP.  

Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 1/06/2006 10:07:00 PM that...

This movie and Serpico- two movies about cops that have not aged well at all.