The French Connection (1971) – William Friedkin

William Friedkin’s 1971 classic has deserved a rewatch for awhile, and I was quite happy to settle in for it. I like Gene Hackman, who won himself an Academy Award for his turn as NYPD officer Popeye Doyle, and I’m a huge fan of Roy Scheider who plays his partner, Cloudy, and received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Based on the book of the actual incident by Robin Moore, the pair play a couple of narcotic cops, and are trying to track down a heroin shipment that is part of a huge drug smuggling operation through France and into New York.

It’s gritty, has a documentary feel to it, and is a perfect example of how dirty New York was back in the 70s. Hackman’s Doyle is an alcoholic bigot who keeps to the greys instead of the black and white edges of the law. As his partner, Cloudy follows him willingly and easily while working within the system (mostly).

The film, despite it’s fast pace, follows the investigation over a few months and shows the pair tailing their suspects, getting permission for wiretaps, and the long slow wait of stakeouts.

But once the film kicks into high gear, it doesn’t let up until the last frame. Once there’s an assassination attempt on Doyle, given the okay by Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) the French drug supplier, the film delivers one of the most spectacular chases put to film (and shot without permits with assistance by members of the NYPD who were actually involved in the case) as Doyle chases his would-be assassin first on foot, and then in a car as Doyle chases a racing elevated train.

It’s a very dark and gritty film, and there is definitely an abuse of power and systemic racism in effect with the NYPD, and it’s shown to be nothing more than business as usual.

Doyle is tenacious in his pursuit of Charnier, and his associates, to the point where it almost blinds him to everything else, and he puts countless lives in danger in pursuit of his goal.

There’s a bit of a noir feeling to the film, which is definitely a bonus for me, as its a genre I love, and the ending as that last gunshot rings out…

The film walked away with five Oscars, Best Actor for Hackman, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. It remains a gritty, crime thriller that still has an impact today, perhaps even more so, considering how far (and how far we haven’t) come.

There’s a feeling to authenticity to everything in the film, and the locations of 70s New York are perfectly captured, and it definitely looks like a different era, Pretty amazing, and still stunning to watch.

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