The Connection (2014) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 135 min.
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Celine Sallette, Melanie Douley, Benoit Magimel, Guillaume Gouix, Bruno Todeschini, Feodor Atkine, Moussa Maaskri
Director: Cedric Jimenez
Screenplay: Cedric Jimenez, Audrey Diwan
Review published May 16, 2015
Over 40 years later, France's take on The French Connection arrives in theaters in this companion piece to the William Friedkin's crime thriller classic, loosely based on true events from the 1970s and early 1980s, mostly set in Marseilles years after the events in which the Hollywood classic takes place. However, this one borrows more from later crime cinema flicks by auteurs like Martin Scorsese (especially Mean Streets and Goodfellas) and Michael Mann (especially Heat and Public Enemies) than it does the original film, making it feel both like a departure and overly familiar at the same time.
Jean Dujardin (The Monuments Men, The Wolf of Wall Street) stars as a crafty magistrate named Pierre Michel, whose tenacity at stopping the French Connection of smack that has been ruining his country, coming through via suppliers in Turkey, has him trying to take down the nearly untouchable drug lord, Gaetan 'Tany' Zampa (Lellouche, Point Blank). But with corruption of law enforcement going all the way up to the top of the city's politicians, and rival gangsters more than willing to become the next kingpin should Zampa stumble, Michel's going to have his hands full trying to chop off the heads of the Hydra when they rear themselves in unexpected places, and increasingly unexpected ways.
Director/co-scripter Cedric Jimenez (Aux Yeux de Tous) delivers a quality period piece that, short of having a bona fide hit soundtrack, is on par with many of the Scorsese gangster drama imitators that have come out since the year that The Connection had been originally set. it's not always something that works in the film's favor, as evoking some of the best that crime cinema has to offer only begs comparisons, which does make Jimenez's film feel a little wanting in that it doesn't deliver consistently compelling characters or riveting thrills. it goes through the motions, and one can sense the box-checking involved in making a 70's crime-action piece, but attempts at an organic story that raises heart rates fall a bit flat.
Nevertheless, it's not incompetent; the characters, story, pacing, costumes, score, and cinematography are quality, even if it feels like we've been down this road more than a few times before. If you're a fan of the genre, or of the two charismatic, square-jawed leads, it's certainly worth a look, but viewers who only partake of mob films when they're exceptionally well done will find not enough solid connective tissue in The Connection to keep them from wishing they'd have re-watched one of the many great 1970's works that inspired it.
©2015 Vince Leo