Alain Chaniers’ (Fernando Rey) front of a dapper Marseilles businessman is all just to cover up the fact that he is a drugs baron working on a big deal – selling $32million worth of 89% pure heroin to New York City. However, the man’s potential customer is currently being closely monitored by two NYPD drug cops – Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). The more the unlikely pair dig, the more they unearth. They must, of course, maintain a safe distance, and when the pair get a little too close to comfort, an attempt on Popeye’s life results in a savage train hijacking and car chase which ultimately leads up to a shootout between the police and mobsters outside the city.
In 1971, the retelling of a real case that took place in New York came to the big screens in the form of The French Connection. William Friedkin’s ‘interpretation’ of events won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, and gifted audiences with one of the most memorably entertaining car chases in history. Myself? I rather enjoyed the film, and I’ve the sequel recorded and ready to watch so surely that tells you something?
Gene Hackman was brilliant as functioning alcoholic Popeye Doyle. He was your standard maverick cop which is hardly surprising as The French Connection was released at the beginning of an era of unlikely heroes and good guys who aren’t shy of getting their hands dirty. As it turned out, stiff competition came out six months later when Dirty Harry was unleashed. Hackman was very enjoyable to watch – I was with him all the way as he chased after those responsible for the huge consignment of heroin that was due to hit New York.
Roy Scheider was the perfect voice of reason for Hackman’s hot-headed maverick. Just to put things into perspective for you, Buddy was to Popeye what Roger Murtagh was to Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon; what Sergeant Al Powell was to John McClane in Die Hard. He kept Popeye on the straight and narrow and together, Scheider and Hackman made a wonderful double act which delivered plenty of laughs alongside moments where you weren’t quite sure whether both were going to come out the other side of this case with their careers in tact.
As I’ve previously said, the plot for The French Connection did originate from real events. Now, whether the film was a retelling of those events, or if the events portrayed in the film were inspired by the real life story I’m not entirely certain. Director Friedkin’s billed it as an ‘interpretation’ of what actually happened so if you’re looking to be educated on anything, perhaps don’t take all that you see at face value. Of course, for me, that didn’t get in the way of an enjoyable afternoon.
Overall, The French Connection is a thoroughly entertaining crime thriller that I think all fans of the genre will enjoy, and I’d imagine that most audiences could quite happily sit through it as it had good storytelling and very watchable performances from the mismatched leads. The French Connection is definitely one I’d recommend!