For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
Well, sooner or later with 100 movies to watch, one of them was bound to leave me a little less than satisfied, and that is exactly how I felt after watching “The French Connection” for the first time.
Let me start this whole discussion by saying that Gene Hackman is awesome as obsessed cop Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle. His take-no-prisoners, all-or-nothing attitude is always believable and often scary. He is a man who is completely overtaken by the hunt and has little to no regard for those around him. At the end of the movie, when he guns down a fellow officer accidentally, I will say that I was genuinely shocked when Doyle just reloads and continues his pursuit of his perpetrator. Gene Hackman, you rule.
And there is a pretty cool car chase.
Now, I understand that this movie has some historical weight to it. It was the first R-rated film to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also was shot in a gritty semi-documentary style that would have felt fresh and exciting in 1971. There is some genuinely inspired camera work, but there is a lot about this movie that hasn’t aged as well.
The story is clunky at the beginning and takes way too long to build. I get it. Doyle and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are a couple of narcotics agents who are trying to drum up something big. I don’t need to see Doyle toss the same bar twice. I don’t really need the scene with an informant, who never shows up again.
The whole feel of the narrative is disjointed and choppy until we’re into the second act and all characters are set on their paths.Part of the letdown for me is that I’ve seen a lot of the good cop/bad cop movies that came after “The French Connection.” Director William Friedkin may have started a movement, but his film is so loose and experimental that it didn’t establish a mastery over the form and fails to stay fresh.
From the original AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies list to the 2007 revised list, “The French Connection” lost 23 places to slide #70 to #93. With the next revision, I believe it may go the way of “The Manchurian Candidate” or “Birth of a Nation.” A film that is historically important, but no longer contemporary. With the power of the films that came lower on list, it is only a matter of time until “The French Connection” is elbowed out.
I am sure that there are some detractors out there. I am really interested to hear what you think. If you love this film, then let me know why I should care about an old film that seems to have lost its luster.
Next up #92 Goodfellas (1990)