New York narcotics detective Popeye Doyle follows the trail of the French connection smuggling ring to France where he teams up with the gendarmes to hunt down the ringleader.Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
For the first few showings of the film, it was approximately 8 minutes longer. 20th Century Fox took out a couple of scenes without director John Frankenheimer's consent. One scene involved Doyle and the girl who played beach volleyball. This footage has yet to be found, and was not included on the 2001 DVD release. See more »
In William Friedkin's original film, Gene Hackman played Popeye Doyle as a compulsive, single-minded narc, whose life Friedkin merely gave a little descriptive distinction in one scene, where Popeye is distracted from his consumption with menacing hoodlums when he, in his own expedient manner, picks up a girl who just as immediately disappears the following morning along with his thought of her. He could not concentrate on, care for, or acknowledge anything except his cop grind, and so all the rage and aggression we saw out of him was channeled by the hunt for the film's bad guys, the Marseilles heroin operation, and he was totally apathetic in other circumstances. That kind of character consolidates well with the brand of merciless, methodical, naturalistic film-making characteristic of Friedkin.
Whatever Popeye was, he wasn't a buffoon, and that's what he comes disconcertingly close to seeming to be in French Connection II, John Frankenheimer's fictional addition to the initial true account. This is a sequel, but it's also a clean slate with the same character. It makes every effort, it seems, to eschew yet another variation on that car-train chase that sparked abundant attempted duplications. Frankenheimer aspires to get inside Popeye, to comprehend him more extensively. But if that was his purpose, perhaps it's a misnomer to transfer the commotion from New York to Marseille.
Frankenheimer's portrayal of the city is distinctly observed, but it's not Popeye's city, and that's his problem. Not in his own element, he's desperately impotent, an uncomfortable, perplexed, remarkably conspicuous American with that goofy little porkpie hat and about one phrase of French. He's been sent here, totally improbably, to bag the Frenchman of the first movie, the kingpin of the heroin trade. But this far from home, he can barely function as a tourist, much less as a cop, so Frankenheimer takes an uncomfortable risk, as he's done successfully a meager handful of times before, by using displacement to wear the inscrutable tough guy down to jelly.
He has dialogue with the French that allege that anyone can interpret English if it is spoken slowly and loudly enough. He has confrontations with local cops, who give him a desk next to the men's room and won't let him pack his gun. He jumps into the case with the finesse of Cosmo Kramer, and in no time at all, he's been abducted by the drug lackeys. In a clever paradox, they hold him captive by turning him into a junkie.
The French Connection was a thoroughly rough, hard-bitten documentary-style procedural completely built out of sequence after sequence portraying the inside functionings and practices of police narcotics investigation and the criminal smuggling and engineering methods of real life, interrupted by the sole legendary chase. I shouldn't say interrupted, however, since the narrative, which has an overpoweringly impromptu texture, nevertheless proceeds commonsensically as all the sequences link because that's the way it must realistically happen. In John Frankenheimer's sequel, everything is based purely on emotion.
Frankenheimer sucks us into a prolonged axial segment of the film focused on Hackman's addiction and his cold-turkey nightmare. There's an abundance of tremendous acting here by Hackman, who leaves no feeling unshaken, and the movie comes to a stalemate. The story, his hunt, are all dismissed during Hackman's solo routine.
Marseille is a place it's patently clear no sane superior would ever send Popeye, no matter how relentless his urge would be to track down the one that got away, unless they wanted to get rid of him for good. But, the movie does have an effective atmosphere, and the Hackman performance, and an ultimate scenes that leads to a taut little bombshell of a closing shot. Whether or not Frankenheimer and his screenplay don't do right by the character, which is debatable, they definitely do right by the genre, and this is better than most of the many cop movies that followed The French Connection into release. It's an gesture, in a way, to how particular sorts of romanticized characters had been reborn starting in the seminal age of the 1970s. After The French Connection and The Godfather, with their profoundly sensed perceptions of cops and gangsters, the hackneyed boilerplates simply didn't do for awhile. Owing to these sharp and bold New Hollywood filmmakers, we're aware they're absurd, and we've seen the real thing.
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