The French Conenction, 1971
Written by Ernest Tidyman
Based on the book by Robin Moore
Directed by William Friedkin
Holy shit, Gene Hackman's been having a rough career lately, hasn't he? Granted, he's approaching eighty years old, but his last three movies were Welcome to Mooseport, Runaway Jury, and Behind Enemy Lines. Granted, right before that he worked with Wes Anderson and David Mamet, and I'm actually something of a fan of Runaway Jury, but time was this guy was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Aside from playing Lex Luthor, he was in a whole slew of eighties' hits like Reds and Hoosiers, and before that he did a long stretch of seventies' cop movies.
And the one that made him a star was William Friedkin's The French Connection. Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, a racist womanizing alcoholic cop who just happens to be very good at his job. He's on the trail of a French drug dealer (the "connection" of the title), and much of the movie shows Doyle's increasingly desperate behavior, as his obsession with cracking the case grows stronger.
Much of the movie is shot without dialogue, tense sequences of Doyle tailing the narcotics dealers, and there's a great and terrible beauty present in the shots of a New York in decline. It has a gritty, almost documentary look, and this only adds to the tension when Friedkin stages the incredible chase scenes in the later parts of the film. It is these action scenes that elevate the film to greatness even today, when so many film and TV procedurals have stolen the thunder of the early seventies cop dramas here -- when The French Connection was made, all of this stuff was a lot fresher and more original; imitation has robbed the film of some of its power.
Ultimately, this is not the must-see film it once was, due to this effect. But it is still a superior example of a crime drama, and students of great action sequences will study this movie so long as movies are studied. It made Hackman's career, and paved the way to modern-day shows like Law & Order. It is tense, terse, and absorbing, and the photography is top-notch. Dated now, but still with a power all its own.