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The French Connection(1971)
Tough-talking New York City detective Popeye Doyle and his partner uncover an international drug smuggling ring, but it's Doyle's feverish and relentless pursuit of the suspects that drives the investigation forward.
For more about The French Connection and the The French Connection Blu-ray release, see the The French Connection Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 10, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frederic de Pasquale
Director: William Friedkin
» See full cast & crew
The French Connection Blu-ray Review
Re-connect with this Oscar-winning film on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 10, 2009
Never trust anyone.
History seems to show that every decade enjoys a style or genre that dominates its ten-year span. This is the decade of the Superhero film; the 1980s enjoyed a slew of larger-than-life Action pictures; and the 1970s featured a plethora of gritty, grimy Police Dramas, perhaps none of them more revered than 1971's The French Connection. They just don't make movies like this anymore, and it's a shame. Films like this require patience, dedication, and an eye for fine detail to revel in all they have to offer, qualities that generally reflect the characters and plot lines. The French Connection is a smart, deliberate, and slowly-paced picture that takes its time in building a story and developing its characters, unlike so many of today's blockbusters that feature thin plots, minimal characterization, and a plethora of effects shots to sell tickets. Perhaps it's a result of a modern, fast-paced world, or perhaps it's just that many of today's filmmakers are like kids playing with new toys on Christmas, but whatever the reason, there seems to be a disconnect between the thinking man's films of yore and the interchangeable, dumbed-down pictures of today. The French Connection is 1970s filmmaking at its very best, a showcase for cinema as art and encapsulating the dirty, harsh, and realistic themes that era of moviemaking embraced.
Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman, Hoosiers) and his partner, Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider, Jaws) are a pair of New York City police officers hot on the trail of a large shipment of narcotics. Once they glean a bit of intelligence from one of their informants, they find themselves in pursuit of both the potential buyers -- Sal and Angie Boca and Joel Weinstock -- and the seller, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey, That Obscure Object of Desire). Doyle's tactics may be of questionable morality, and his instincts on such matters are only occasionally right on, but he is given the go-ahead to further pursue his suspects. Eventually, Doyle and Charnier find themselves in a low-tech battle of wits as the suspected narcotics dealer eludes his pursuer at every turn -- and ultimately decides to employ more aggressive tactics against the dedicated officer. Will Doyle and Russo foil the deal, or will Charnier succeed in getting his shipment onto New York City streets?
The French Connection succeeds on multiple levels thanks to the creative talent on both sides of the camera. Few movie franchises, if one may call only a pair of films a "franchise," enjoy the contributions of two first-class directors: William Friedkin (The Exorcist) here and John Frankenheimer (Ronin) at the helm of French Connection II, not to mention a trio of highly gifted actors at the top of their games, Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, and Fernando Rey. Friedkin's Oscar-winning direction -- and Owen Roizman's (3 Days of the Condor) Oscar-nominated cinematography -- do more for the feel of the picture than perhaps even the script. The film simply revels in its deliberateness, encapsulating the long, tedious work of the detectives therein portrayed and replicating their steadfastness and arduous undertakings by capturing the action with a gritty, nasty, bare-knuckles style that places the viewers on street-level with the characters. The film takes audiences to places that are usually either dangerous or filthy or both, showing the dark underbelly of society where only few dare tread. The French Connection allows its action pieces to come about naturally and logically, made a part of the story and not simply forced in to fill a quota. The film's action highlight comes in the form of a car chase sequence that is magnificent, leaving viewers breathless in its daring and excitement. Like so many other aspects of the movie, it feels real, which is what sells it. The car is driven with skill but not perfection; the sequence flows naturally and the various perils and obstacles do damage to the car and threaten the success of the chase. Often, there is doubt as to the outcome of the chase which allows for a greater sense of tension and excitement. Indeed, each of the film's action sequences, though not plentiful, feature a level of grit, danger, and realism that lend a tremendous amount of credibility to the experience.
Gene Hackman, one of cinema's most gifted actors of any generation, delivers what may be his career-defining performance and one of two to earn him an Oscar (the other coming for his work in Unforgiven). From a purely aesthetic perspective, his portrayal of "Popeye" Doyle may not best his uncanny performance as Lex Luthor in 1978's Superman, but the part easily represents one of the actor's finest moments. Hackman portrays Doyle as both unrelenting and ruthless, single-mined in his pursuit of cunning villains that leave him precious few avenues of pursuit. He's a cop that works on instinct as much as, if not more so, hard evidence, a character trait and approach to his work that doesn't always sit well with others. The French Connection also features standout performances from Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider in a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated performance. Rey's character is the quintessential villain, street smart and evasive, remaining a step ahead, focused on his goals, but no forgetting that he and his deal have come under intense scrutiny. Unlike so many other cinematic villains, Rey's Alain Charnier is absolutely no-nonsense in his approach; he is in business for business, not for side ventures or revenge against another character; he remains focused on his task, does only what he deems necessary to successfully make the deal, and no more. He's given no witty one-liners or extensive backstory; he's an intelligent criminal that finds his work hindered only by a zealous police detective. It is another of the film's strengths that it deals in what the audience may perceive as an extension of reality, featuring characters that are motivated only by their work rather than some external or other past event that truly drives their ambitions behind-the-scenes.
The French Connection Blu-ray, Video Quality
The French Connection arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox in a 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. The transfer is the source of much contention between Director Friedkin and Cinematographer Roizman, and hence amongst Blu-ray fans as well. Friedkin has personally approved the transfer as-seen on this disc and goes into some detail about the process of lending to the film a new color-timing that is discussed on disc two of this set in a supplement aptly entitled Color Timing 'The French Connection.' Rather than delve into any perceived strengths and weaknesses of the alterations, this review will examine only the image as seen on-screen; both the supplement noted above as well as various interview snippets available around the Internet may provide more in-depth analysis from both the director and cinematographer themselves.
The French Connection is a rough-looking film and the results generally aren't pretty; I, Robot or Baraka this is not, but what it is is a faithful reproduction of William Friedkin's now-intended look of the film. It's gritty style reflects both the era in which it was made and the shady world in which the film takes place. The French Connection features a tremendous amount of grain, an occasional spot on the print, some soft focus, minimal detail, harsh whites, and colors that bleed and offer rather unimpressive definition, Doyle's red Santa Claus suit a good example. Various segments of the film enjoy increased levels of visible detail, stronger colors that don't appear to smear quite as much, and a minimized grain field. Flesh tones look a bit pale, though they appear to be in keeping with the intended look of the film. Blacks are dark but oftentimes lend moderate crushing to many scenes. It's hard to argue against a director-approved transfer, though cinephiles may be rightly concerned that The French Connection may not appear as they remember it on Blu-ray. Nevertheless, the transfer as-is is definitely rough around the edges, just as it should be.
The French Connection Blu-ray, Audio Quality
20th Century Fox unravels The French Connection on Blu-ray with both the film's monaural soundtrack as well as a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The lossless mix offers a bit of improvement over the mono track, creating a wider sound field and lending more precision to the music and effects, but it's not head-and-shoulders above the single-channel track, either. The lossless 5.1 mix certainly grabs one's attention form the get-go. It blares through the speakers with alarming presence at reference volume over the opening title sequence. Adjusting the volume a bit downward, the track becomes a mostly enjoyable experience; effects pan nicely around the speakers, primarily up front. Sound effects play with decent authority, particularly gunshots. The film's climactic shootout fills the entire soundstage with the thunderous booms of shotguns and the lesser report of the snub-nosed revolvers. Ambience is also sufficient; the sounds of a noisy club -- the music and the patron's chatter -- come through with decent clarity. A subtle hiss accompanies the track. Dialogue seems a bit low in volume compared to the rest of the track. It's occasionally a strain to hear, and it doesn't match the intensity or volume of other parts of the track. The track features something of a harsh edge and lacks much in the way of fine definition. It definitely fails to encapsulate all the best features of a modern action extravaganza soundtrack, but it's certainly sufficient for what it is.
The French Connection Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of The French Connection offers a myriad of supplements spread over two discs. The first disc begins with William Friedkin Introduction to 'The French Connection' (1080p, 1:16). Friedkin discusses the advantages of the Blu-ray format in delivering his original vision for the film. Next are two commentary tracks, the first with Director William Friedkin. Here, the director eloquently shares his thoughts on the filmmaking process, several discussions on the real-life heroes and villains of the story on which the film is based, and the strengths of the cast, as well as offering some intriguing background on the case and characters seen on the film. Friedkin does a fantastic job of both recounting the action on-screen but also expanding on the superficialities of the film by delving deeper into various aspects of the filmmaking process. Track two features Actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Hackman appears first and Scheider second, with the former delivering an intriguing monologue as he recalls landing the role, researching the part, and stories from the set. Later, Scheider recounts many stories of a similar nature. His commentary begins at the beginning of chapter 18. Disc one also features an Isolated Score Track, a pop-up trivia track, and D-Box functionality.
Disc two begins with a series of eight deleted scenes (1080p, 11:37) with optional commentary with Director Friedkin, including a fascinating introduction where he discusses the organic nature of pictures and the process of editing. Anatomy of a Chase (1080p, 20:20) once again features the director, this time on-location of the film's famed chase sequence, discussing the reasoning behind choosing the locations and walking through the sequence. The piece also features an extensive dialogue between Friedkin and Producer Philip D'Antoni as they move along the trail of the chase. Hackman on Doyle (1080p, 10:49) features the actor reminiscing about his famed role and the process of making the film. Next is Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection (1080p, 19:12), a nice piece featuring the director and Sonny Grosso, the real-life officer involved in the case, recalling the events of the case that inspired the film.
Scene of the Crime (1080p, 5:14) features Friedkin and actor and then-real-life police officer Randy Jurgensen recalling the making of one of the film's most crucial sequences. Color Timing 'The French Connection' (1080p, 13:15) is a highly interesting piece that features Friedkin discussing his tweaking of the film for its Blu-ray release. Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis (1080p, 10:04) highlights the story behind the film's score and composer. Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection (1080p, 13:47) looks at the Film Noir elements of The French Connection and its revitalization of the art form. BBC Documentary: The Poughkeepsie Shuffle (480p, 53:38) is an extensive piece that covers many of the bases already touched upon in the previous supplements, including the real-life history of the "French Connection" case and the formation of the picture, from the origins of the script to the film's Oscar nominations and wins. The piece features plenty of interviews with cast, crew, and people involved in the real-life case. Finally, Making the Connection: The Untold Stories of 'The French Connection' (480p, 56:33) is a Fox Movie Channel piece that examines the involvement of Officer Sonny Grosso on both the film and the real-world case.
The French Connection Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The French Connection is classic and multi-award winning cinema, garnering the Oscar wins as noted above, as well as earning wins for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture. It's a precise and deliberate picture that is far from glamorous; instead, the film enjoys a gritty, in-your-face look and feel that conveys every theme of the film nicely, including the seedy underbelly of civilization, the monotony of police work, and the dangers of the chase. William Friedkin's masterful film is deserving of its accolades, and it is now available on Blu-ray disc. The transfer is sure to disappoint some for various reasons, including the Director's tweaking of its appearance and its worn, gritty look. The lossless audio presentation is adequate and befitting the film, though it won't match the clarity of more contemporary tracks. The package is nicely supported by an array of bonus materials. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the disc, this is one film that deserves to be in every collection. Stop picking your feet in Pughkeepsie and instead pick up a Blu-ray copy of The French Connection. Highly recommended.
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