The French Connection is a 1971 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame). The film is very significant in film history for being the first “R” rated film to take home the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film also won awards for Director (Friedkin), Actor (Hackman), Editing, and Adapted Screenplay. It stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider (of Jaws fame) as New York police department detectives “Popeye” Doyle and “Cloudy” Russo. The fictionalized story in the film was based on a non-fiction book by Robin Moore. The film is also known for having one of the greatest car chase scenes ever put to film. So are those accolades enough to elevate this film into the realm of the classics?
Should this film be considered a classic? Yes, but probably not for the reasons you might think. Sure, Hackman’s performance is great and the story is fairly engaging, but what really stood out to me was the style of the film. The film takes an almost documentary style in a number of scenes. With a grainy look that adds to the gritty, realistic feel of the film. Also, a number of shots have a hand held feel that add to the documentary, first person look. This is something that I have not seen much of in films from this era and earlier that are on this list. Also, the car chase, in my opinion, is what makes this film. The chase scene is very intense and builds to a great man to man confrontation.
Would I own this film? Probably not. While it was entertaining, I actually found the way the movie was plotted to be a bit confusing. Because of this, the conclusion of the film is not nearly as climactic as it should be. Also, and this is completely my personal preference, but the only part of the film that really engaged me was the incredible chase scene. Before and after that I had a difficult time being drawn into the story. That said, if you are fan of chase scenes, you need to pick up this film if for no other reason to see the one in this film.
Here’s a great video clip of the director being interviewed about the chase scene in the film. Definitely watch this if you enjoyed the chase scene.