AFI #93: The French Connection

I barely remember seeing The French Connection when I was younger, so watching it today it was like watching a film I hadn’t seen. I’ll cut right to the chase — the film doesn’t hold up and honestly it’s pretty dull compared to most of today’s crime films. I suppose it was a good police film in 1971, but these days we’re saturated with crime drama and frankly the plots of most TV crime shows is far superior to The French Connection. It’s hard to believe this film won the Oscar for Best Picture.

I did like some things in The French Connection. Gene Hackman’s Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is a memorable character, and Hackman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the gritty, boozing, racist cop with questionable skills. I also liked the style of the film…it has a definite early 70s mood and the direction caught the period well. But the action was slow and the plot was dull. Truth is Popeye Doyle didn’t do good police work to break up the big drug ring, rather he stumbled upon it. Once he was onto it he kept getting “made” by the people he was tailing and not only did he not catch the bad guy in the end he killed one of his own men in the process. Doyle is definitely a flawed character. The film is “loosely” based on a true story, so some of the plot failures may be due to that, but it doesn’t work for me.

And then there is the famous car chase. You know it…the one in which Gene Hackman swerves in and out of traffic under the elevated train trying to catch a bad guy. The thing is, it’s not a car chase at all. The film is remembered for the amazing car chase that never happened. Yes, he drives fast and almost kills a million other drivers on the road, but he’s trying to catch a train not another car. That doesn’t qualify as a car chase for me! I’ll take the car chase scene in To Live and Die in LA any day!

The French Connection is another film that for me is simply not as good as it is remembered for being. If it were filmed today it would be considered a bad episode of Law and Order.

Next Up: #92 Goodfellas

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