1 Year, 100 Movies: #93 The French Connection (1971)

by Trey Hock on July 8, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

posterFor 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.

doyle and russoThe 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.

doyleI 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)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #95 The Last Picture Show (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #96 Do the Right Thing (1989)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian July 9, 2010 at 7:43 am

Lost its luster? Not for me. I wish they made them like this again. Raw and gritty with some tension-building pacing (does Hollywood ever pace anymore?) I realize its a tired, overdone genre. But even after nearly 30 years, there’s a realism to this film that no other cop movie has been able to achieve. There’s a genuine quality to the way the characters (and all their flaws) are portrayed. Watching the detectives hard at work, tailing suspects and bickering with each other is fascinating. Its one of the only movies where I feel like I’m watching real cops.

Reply

2 Brian July 9, 2010 at 7:43 am

Lost its luster? Not for me. I wish they made them like this again. Raw and gritty with some tension-building pacing (does Hollywood ever pace anymore?) I realize its a tired, overdone genre. But even after nearly 30 years, there’s a realism to this film that no other cop movie has been able to achieve. There’s a genuine quality to the way the characters (and all their flaws) are portrayed. Watching the detectives hard at work, tailing suspects and bickering with each other is fascinating. Its one of the only movies where I feel like I’m watching real cops.

Reply

3 Brian July 9, 2010 at 7:43 am

Lost its luster? Not for me. I wish they made them like this again. Raw and gritty with some tension-building pacing (does Hollywood ever pace anymore?) I realize its a tired, overdone genre. But even after nearly 30 years, there’s a realism to this film that no other cop movie has been able to achieve. There’s a genuine quality to the way the characters (and all their flaws) are portrayed. Watching the detectives hard at work, tailing suspects and bickering with each other is fascinating. Its one of the only movies where I feel like I’m watching real cops.

Reply

4 Reed July 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

Totally agree with everything in this review. This movie really left me flat.

Reply

5 Reed July 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

Totally agree with everything in this review. This movie really left me flat.

Reply

6 Reed July 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

Totally agree with everything in this review. This movie really left me flat.

Reply

7 Trey July 10, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Brian,

When was the last time you watch “TFC”? I agree with you as far as Hackman’s portrayal of Doyle. Scheider’s portrayal of Russo is good, but by no means awe inspiring. As for the criminals, they are very flat and two dimensional. I guess I wanted to see the movie you describe, but didn’t feel like “TFC” delivered.

Reply

8 Jef July 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm

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