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Monday, August 8, 2011

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

At its core, William Friedkin’s popular (and wildly influential) film is just a down-and-dirty police procedural about a narcotics ring. Its two big set pieces (a wild car chase under an elevated subway train & a cat-and-mouse subway fake-out for Gene Hackman’s police detective & drug importer Fernando Rey) are almost too well known. Yet, after launching a thousand films & tv shows, the film retains (or has it regained?) its lively sense of cinematic discovery, especially in how it displays the soiled & sordid nature of its main supporting character, ‘Fun City’ New York. No wonder Friedkin & lenser Owen Roizman ‘stole’ so many street location shots. (Watch for real-life gawkers in the background.) But tacky period flavor and a swell cast (what a kick to see the young Roy Schieder as Hackman’s partner) only partly explain why the sum is so much greater than the film’s fairly ordinary parts, even with an ending that’s a bit of mess. Perhaps it was Friedkin’s faith in his rapport with the public, a faith that held for his follow up pic (THE EXORCIST/’73), then vanished as mysteriously at it had appeared. He never quite found it again.

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