William Friedkin's gritty police drama portrays two tough New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France. An interesting contrast is established between 'Popeye' Doyle, a short-tempered alcoholic bigot who is nevertheless a hard-working and dedicated police officer, and his nemesis Alain Charnier, a suave and urbane gentleman who is nevertheless a criminal and one of the largest drug suppliers of pure heroin to North America. During the surveillance and eventual bust, Friedkin provides one of the most gripping and memorable car chase sequences ever filmed.Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
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An enjoyable cop thriller with plenty of good touches and an unmistakably 1970's feel
Following a mix of hunches and leads, two tough NYPD narcotic cops set up surveillance on a candy store in the belief that the owners of the store are somehow involved in drug dealing on the side. Putting the squeeze on the store leads them to a couple of new people, specifically a smooth French criminal called Alain Charnier who is trying to orchestrate a massive drug sale in New York. The pressure looks like bringing success to Detectives Doyle and Russo, but Charnier's organisation has tight time targets and decides to take action to remove the heat from the job.
Sometimes with "classic" films it is easy to get sucked into the hype and reputation and just love it before you have even seen it; for that reason, although I have seen it several times, I decided to give it a fresh viewing before I dared try to write my thoughts on it it finished ten minutes ago, so my memory is still fresh. Although I feel that it has remained well known thanks to "that" car chase, I think that recalling only that scene is to do a disservice to a film that is an enjoyable thriller in a tough, typically 1970's mould. The plot sees a minor hunch turn into a bigger police job and it would be easy to pick holes in some of the logic within it, it still grips and provides a nicely gritty cop thriller. It isn't as clever or as original as those coming to it on the back of its reputation might expect it to be, as it does pretty much what the rest of the genre does. Now I'll be fair and acknowledge that I don't know whether this film was the first to create this type of film or if it was just part of the development of them, but certainly watching it now it does blend in with others in the same genre.
The direction makes it better than the material as Friedkin injects real tension and grit into the story keeping it exciting while also being rather sombre and low-key. The acting also makes it and, rightly, Hackman carries much of the film with a great performance as Doyle. Grizzled, bigoted and apparently heartless, it is interesting to contrast his character with Rey's Charnier, who is much cooler and effective. Scheider is, as always, reliable in support and he gives a good performance throughout while the rest of the cast play their roles well enough. There is no doubt though, that Hackman is the heart of the film and his performance reflects this and makes the audience emotionally involved with his story from the very start.
Overall this is a great 1970's cop thriller with all that comes with that genre. It is enjoyably gritty and fast paced with "heroes" of questionable morality and smooth criminals. People will always hark on about that car chase and, yes, it is good, but there is more to this film and it stands out as one of the best of the genre.
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