on August 15, 2003
The Tuminaro Case. That is what the law enforcement community calls "the French Connection" case of 1968. Two rough-and-tumble NYPD Narcotics detectives named Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso stumbled on a heroin-smuggling ring which spanned the Atlantic and linked the New York Mafia with a French mob operating out of Marsailles, which, if you are not familiar with it, is a great port city in the Mediterranean famous for, among other things, being a stop on the great heroin pipeline between Turkey, Siciily, Corsica, Continental Europe, and the Big Apple. This discovery was the birth of the understanding that the heroin trade was big international business, being conducted on a breathtaking scale, and the efforts of local cops and a few federal agents to stop it by busting junkies and street dealers was as ludicrous as handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.
In the end, somewhere between 100 - 300 kilos of pure heroin were seized, the ring was smashed, two cops sprung to fame by making the big case ("Went through The Door", in NYPD Narc lexicon), and the soon-to-be legendary NYPD Special Investigations Unit was created. But at what cost, and to what end?
This is what the film version of "The French Connection" examines, changing the names of the players (to Popeye Doyle, played by the great Gene Hackman, and Cloudy Russo, played by the criminally underrated Roy Schieder, respectively) but leaving the basic facts of the story intact. Very few movies have attempted to show the methodology and mind-set of Narc detectives without either glamorizing them or apologizing for them; "TFC" does neither. Doyle is a truly disgusting human being, but a [darn] good cop. He has the ego, the spleen, the recklessness, and the obsessive won't-let-go mentality of a pit bull, which more or less typefied the Narcs of the pre-Knapp Comission years. If you want a cop like Doyle off your case, you pretty much have to kill him. And if you try, don't miss.
The SIU, an elite branch of the Narcotics Division, was born during this investigation. No police unit in history probably bagged more hard drugs, busted more big-name dealers, or wrought such havoc with the drug trade in the Big Apple. On the other hand, no police unit in history ever broke so many laws doing it:
the tactics used by Doyle and Russo in "TFC" became standard procedure for the SIU: Illegal wiretaps. Shakedowns. Theft of money. Distribution of heroin to informants. Perjury. Extortion. Entrapment. You name it, they did it, and operated with virtually no supervision for about ten years before another famous cop, Bob Leuici, who got his own movie ("Prince of the City") brought down the house by exposing its inherent corruption. About seventy detectives served in SUI and of them, more than fifty ended up being indicted, and most went to prison. A number killed themselves. In a moment of true irony, several SIU detectives were fingered in the theft of 300 pounds of heroin from the police evidence lockup. The heroin in question was the evidence seized by Egan and Grosso in the Tuminaro Case. So in the end, it was largely for nothing. The H hit the street anyway.
I read some review of this film which question its morality, its supposed affirmantion of the 'war on drugs' and even liken "Connection" to the Nazi propiganda film "Triumph of the Will" because it seems to endorse the ends-justifying-tactics of Doyle and Russo. These people are missing the point entirely. The French Connection is not politicized fiction, like "Blow." It is a real case, the detectives were real people, and these were the real methods they used to crack it. The scene where Hackman chases his would-be assassin all across New York, endangering the lives of about 100 people in the process, says more than any dialogue could about his personality. In other words, this movie isn't about the drug trade, it's about the cops who fight it.
"TFC" is NOT an endorsement of the war on drugs; it simply lays out what happened here in a dramatized fashion. Like all great movies, it does not tell the viewer what to think but allows him/her to come to his own conclusion. And by the way, the movie most certainly DOES imply that the drug war, or at least this particular battle in it, was futile. The 'what happened to them' blurbs at the end of the film demonstrate this in no uncertain terms.
Looking back I see this is not a proper review of the film but more of a rant. ...
I'm through venting. Sorry. I'll make up for it with this: "The French Connection" is a great crime drama, brilliantly acted, superbly directed, and deserves every bit of its reputation as one of the greatest films of all time. I'm going to buy it on DVD today.
on October 28, 2002
There is a current idea in Hollywood that can be stated by the axiom, "never let realism get in the way of the story." (especially in the age of CGI) The French Connection is an emphatic rebuke to this idiom. The film is engrossing, taut, and suspenseful simply because it is realistic. Director Friedkin (who deservedly won an Oscar) adds to the realism by using ambient lighting and framing the action like a documentary (apparently he rehearsed the actors separately from the crew, then told to crew to "find the shot"). The main credit for the realism, however, lies with Scheider and the Oscar-winning Hackman in the lead roles. They accompanied real cops to real drug busts for a few weeks to pick up the lingo and techniques. Friedkin also deserves credit for allowing the actors to improvise and for listening to his expert advisors.
The story is based on a true story, about a heroin-smuggling ring bringing drugs from Europe to New York. The policemen protrayed by Hackman and Scheider are real people who initiated the investigation. Of course, the movie compresses 2 years of surveillance and police work into a of couple hours, and the celebrated car-chasing-train scene didn't take place in real life. However, each individual scene rings true, and you get a good overall impression of what life was like in the mean streets of New York in 1971.
This DVD has a number of extra features, including some character-developing scenes that were cut from the final version (and rightfully so). Friedkin gives a little info on each one. In addition, there are two documentaries, both commenting on how the film was made and how it related to the real case. There is some overlap (especially if you also include Freidkin's audio commentary), but not enough that you get irritated by it. Scheider and Hackman both have about 1/2 hour worth of commentary as well - Scheider's is the best of the three commentaries, in my opinion.
Therefore, pick up this version of the DVD to get some neat extras. The video and sound weren't especially cleaned up for the DVD version - the filming was originally meant to be a little shakey and unclear in places - so the DVD maintains his original vision.
on November 11, 2001
The FRENCH CONNECTION is a gritty, realistic crime drama. It follows a pair of police detectives (GENE HACKMAN and ROY SCHEIDER) as they look to bust a French Drug Lord. But, this is no buddy film. The characters (especially Hackman's POPEYE DOYLE) are realistically and (coming out with the end of the Vietnam War) cynically. These guys don't play good cop/bad cop to get things done. They are good cop/bad cop. Ironically, Hackman's bad cop is the main character so we see a lot of sensitive and questionable techniques. Today, I find the storyline extremely tight and focused, even simple compared with todays cop dramas. Becuase of hat, it might not be as 'exciting' as expected. The film includes the classic 'car chase' which is loud, quick, dangerous and intelligent but, again, might not be as 'exciting' as stuff that we have seen since. It's nice to see this BEST PICTURE get the complete DVD treatment even if the commentary is less than stellar and teh deleted scenes are best for one thing - deletion. Otherwise it gets a great DVD transfer. This can also be purchased in a box set with its official Sequel, THE FRENCH CONNECTION II. Followed by a couple un-official sequels as well, THE SEVEN-UPS and BADGE 373.
on September 23, 2001
There are few films that everyone should own, and The French Connection is one of them. After 30 years, it remains one of the most compelling crime stories ever committed to film, and it's centerpiece car chase is just as thrilling today as it was 30 years ago.
It's a bit of a shame that the transfer isn't quite up to snuff. Like other "gritty" films, the transfer suffers from extensive film grain in daytime shots, with the early scenes in France particularly bothersome. Given the advances in DVD authoring, it's surprising to see something with Matrix-level graininess on the market, but this is a quibble that only videophiles will notice.
As for supplements, this disc offers some of the year's best. Two extensive documentaries featuring interviews with many of the surviving members of the cast and crew delve into the true story behind the film and the nature of the production. The BBC-produced "Poughkeepsie Shuffle" even revisits the locations as they appear today, offering a nice contrast between New York City then and now.
As an added bonus, there are seven deleted scenes--remarkable for a film of this age--which can be viewed with or without an introduction from director Friedkin.
The French Connection isn't a kid's film by any standard, but it should be noted that the deleted scenes and the BBC doc both contain language and images that parents probably don't want their young children to see or hear. This isn't one of those "soft" R-rated pictures that would pass for PG today.
If you love this film, you need this DVD. If you've never seen this film, you still need this DVD, so that you can experience a masterwork of American cinema with lasting power. Who knew Gene Hackman could be a tough guy?
on September 18, 2003
Adapted from Robin Moore's fact-based novel, THE FRENCH CONNECTION was the breakthrough film for both direction William Friedkin, who later went on to direct THE EXORCIST, and Gene Hackman. Hackman stars in his Academy Award-winning role as "Popeye" Doyle, a New York City cop who, along with partner "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider), stumbles upon a drug ring headed by a Frenchman (Fernando Rey) who uses an innocent-seeming actor (Frederic de Pasquale) to cover the operation. Along with Hackman's forementioned award for "Best Actor", the film also took in Best Director for Friedkin; Best Film Editing; Best Writing (Ernest Tidyman) and a deserved Best Picture. The chase scenes are outstanding and some of the best ever filmed; Hackman is excellent in one of his greatest roles. Action fans won't want to pass this one by; followed by FRENCH CONNECTION II and a floppish TV movie.
on October 5, 2001
No need to say much about this film, it is a classic with superb performances and an excellent script. The cast are all spot-on, with Gene Hackman (one of my favourite actors) fully deserving his Best Actor Oscar.
The 2 DVD set includes 2 documentaries, one 'The Poughkeepsie Shuffle' made by the BBC, and the other I think specially for the DVD release. Both occasionally overlap in content of course, but are definitely worth watching. They include interviews with Hackman , Roy Scheider and William Friedkin, and with the two NYPD cops on whose exploits the film is based.
The DVD transfer is very fine for a 30 year old film. Don't worry about the atrocious grain (which almost amounts to pixellation) in the opening shot of Marseille's skyline. The rest of the film enjoys an excellent anamorphic transfer, with only slight grain visible in a few night scenes. This transfer is well up to the standard of the best DVDs of similar period films. The soundtrack is also excellent.