Posted by: steveonfilm | January 13, 2010

Movie Review: The French Connection (1971)

Release Date: 10/09/1971

Screenwriter: Ernest Tidyman
Director: William Friedkin

Gene Hackman as Jimmy Doyle
Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo

Academy Awards:

Best Actor – Gene Hackman
Best Director
Best Picture
Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium
Best Film Editing

Best Supporting Actor – Roy Scheider
Best Cinematography
Best Sound

One of the things I love about Netflix is that when you hear about a movie, you can just put it into your queue and forget about it. I’d say 90% of all the movies in my queue are just random films I’ve read about, always heard about, or was told I should watch. The French Connection is one of these movies… and my opinion on it seems to be in the minority.

I don’t get this film. I was told it was supposed to be amazing and everything about the set up lead me to believe it was. Hackman and Scheider are vice squad detectives Jimmy Doyle and Buddy Russo. These guys were old school before there was even old school. They ruff up suspects, ignore the rules, and do what needs to be done to get the job done. They stumble on to a plot by French drug smugglers to bring in massive amounts of heroin stuffed inside automobiles, ala the title “The French Connection.” Plus, this was all based on a true story. Sounds great, right? Wrong.

Instead of an awesome movie, you get a slow, plodding, boring movie about two New York City detectives on the vice squad trying to bust up a drug ring that they’re not even sure is a drug ring. Hell, half the time they’re not even sure what they’re looking at, they just know “it’s dirty.” It took almost an hour before I felt like it started to go anywhere, and more often than not I was checking my watch to see when it would be over.

The slow pace wouldn’t be a bad thing if the characters were interesting, but they’re not. And it’s not just a bunch of short scenes. They’re ambiguous, drawn out sequences, that run too long and sometimes don’t seem to have a real purposes, and when they’re done you’re like, “Wait, I just wasted six minutes for that? WTF!”. Like, I know how people complain that Taratino’s movies have long drawn out conversations that aren’t important. But at least they’re usually entertaining. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how it beat out “A Clockwork Orange,” or “The Last Picture Show” for best picture in 1971.

The acting is fine, but I don’t get how either Scheider or Hackman were nominated for Academy Awards. I mean, they were good, but I didn’t see anything that stood out. Hell, half the time the dialog was so muted, or adlibbed, I couldn’t tell what they were saying.

The villains were pretty generic, and I sure as heck wasn’t rooting for them to be taken down. They just didn’t seem that “villainous.” They were just French drug dealers. They weren’t smarmy. They weren’t scummy. They didn’t even seem scary. They were just there. And unless you hate the French, you didn’t have any real reason to not like them. The French weren’t the only bad guys, there were some generic New York mafia types as well, but none of them stood out either.

I also have NO CLUE how this won for best editing, or was even nominated for best cinematography. I thought the edits were rough and distracting. And the camera work at times made me sick. Literally. They were out of focus. Fuzzy. And there was WAY too much hand held work. It got in the way, instead of offering an interesting view of what was going on.

They also used the horrible, AND I MEAN HORRIBLE, exploding dye packs for gunshot wounds that ended up looking like orange tinged ketchup. The firearm use was fine, I didn’t have a problem with it, and if anything it was one of the highlights of the film. But the dye packs took away from almost all of that. They’d have been better off just not using them at all. I mean, most of the people had on thick wool coats or suits, not exactly the type of material that’s going to explode with an entry wound from a 9mm.

I’m not sure what it is about this movie that I’m missing, or why I didn’t like it. I thought, maybe it’s because I’m not used to movies from the late 60s and early 70s. But I don’t think that’s it. I LOVE “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969). “Dr. Strangelove” (1969) is hilarious. “The Graduate” (1967) is an all time classic. I’ve got “Chinatown” (1974) in my personal collection. I can sit through “The Godfather” (1972) over and over again. So I don’t think that’s it. What am I missing? Why don’t I think this movie is great?

I’m not going to tell you not to see this is you haven’t. It’s been on a bunch of “best ever” lists. So I think this is a firm case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” But until someone can explain to me what I’m not getting, on my own personal list this is a solid “Over Rated.”

Until next time, keep writing!




  2. I’d have to agree. I have been wanting to watch it for awhile and just watched it today on AMC. I’m a big Gene Hackman fan and this is one of his most well-known roles. The movie was a let down for me. Too slow, with nothing happening. I don’t need action every second, or any at all, but I need something happening.

    • Yeah, I’m in the same boat.

      And I’m a big fan of a lot of movies in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s to know it’s not that I “just don’t get movies from the 70s” as one person e-mailed me.

      Honestly, the basis for a good movie is there. I mean, in the right hands, this could totally be remade if they wanted to. I’m not sure they need to remake it, but I just didn’t think it lived up to the hype everyone made it out to be.

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