DVD Pick: The French Connection (1971)

Directed by William Friedkin. October 1971, USA. Rated R: 104 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 3/26/2008)

Every time one of my friends comments on The French Connection, they call it long and boring. Yet critics over the years have heaped mounds of critical acclaim on the film. Seeing as how it won five Oscars and was nominated for three more, I decided to investigate. Not that the Academy always recognizes masterpieces, but it usually doesn’t award drivel either. After watching the film, I became sure that my friends have poor taste in movies.

The French Connection, like Dirty Harry (also made in 1971), is a gritty crime drama about a cop who knows he can make a big arrest if only his department will let him. Protagonist Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (U of I Alum Gene Hackman), a jaded narc whose everyday beat involves shaking down bellhops with a couple joints in their socks, suspects some Brooklyn thugs are importing a large shipment of high-quality heroin from France. Finally, he stumbles upon an opportunity to gain some respect. While the whole “badass boy in blue with a strong hunch, but due to his history of unconventional police-work, no one else believes him” trope seems a bit cliché, none of the other techniques director William Friedkin employs feel overdone. Often the camera focuses on the bad guys making conversation, then cleverly, and without changing angle, zooms in or out to show Popeye watching them from afar. Coloration also factors into the movie’s overall visual effect. The gloomy blue hues of towering skyscrapers and littered-and-potholed streets contrast with the blood red of glamorous night clubs and storefront window displays.

The French Connection is not boring. Its brutal chase scenes and its psychological exploration of an amoral lawman do not fail to entertain. And give me a break; French Connection only lasts 104 minutes. That more or less equals the average length of Hollywood films.

Now, if you want to talk about overrated award-winning film with long, boring, snoozefest-inducing sequences, check out The English Patient (1996, 2 hours and 42 minutes, 9 Oscars). Its admittedly touching love story barely compensates for its dullness.