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REVIEW: The Connection (2014) July 5, 2016

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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THE CONNECTION

(LA FRENCH)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2016

Many films are inspired by real events. Few films tend to inspire events in real life. Even fewer are films inspired by real events which were inspired by a film based on true events. One of such examples could be found thanks to French Connection, William Friedkin’s famous Oscar-winning 1971 crime thriller. Originally based on a book that described investigation of a complex international drug-smuggling operation, it led to “French connection” and various other “connections” entering vocabularies in order to describe other criminal enterprises with global scope. Some of them were, just like in the original film, based in French port city of Marseille where the local gangs in 1970s adopted the name “French connection”, or, simply, “La French”. Four decades later their activities are described in The Connection, 2014 Franco-Belgian film directed by Cédric Jimenez.

Protagonist of the film, played by Jean Dujardin, is Pierre Michel, new investigative judge appointed with the task of eliminating organised crime in Marseille. His task seems difficult not only because of traditionally blurred lines between business, crime and politics in that Mediterranean port, but also because the local underworld is dominated by Gaetano “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), ruthless but efficient mobster who has created links with American Mafia and made fortune in lucrative heroin trade. Michel is, however, determined to bring Zampa down, partly because he had worked with juvenile offenders and became familiar with the ways heroin can destroy young people and their families. His efforts are thwarted by Zampa’s men within the police force and connections to political establishment. Michel nevertheless continues collecting evidence and witnesses against Zampa which would lead to spectacular conflict between the mobster and crime fighter.

Partly due to the name, and partly due to subject matter, The Connection is destined to be compared to Friedkin’s film. Two films are however, set apart not only by different times and places, but also by different approaches. Friedkin’s film was almost revolutionary in its gritty realism and portrayal of early 1970s urban decay; Jimenez’s film is more faithful to the historical facts (although some names are changed, like in case of a Zampa’s rival played by Benoît Magimel, the very same character played by Jean Reno in 22 Bullets) but, like many gangster films set in distant periods, tends to wash them in period details like fashion and music that sometimes unintentionally creates feelings of nostalgia. Jimenez, on the other hand, tries to pay something of a homage to Friedkin and does so in not so necessary and rather artificial montage that shows how Zampa’s product comes to New York and what it does to its citizens. The other obvious homage is paid to Michael Mann’s Heat, in a scene that portrays accidental encounter between Michel and Zampa and the following discussion of their relationship. The scene looks somewhat “artsy” because both characters at times (mostly due to 1970s haircut and fashion) look almost identical. Script by Jimenez and Audrey Diwan also tries very hard to explore similarities between the two, mostly by portraying their private lives and establishing them as loving husbands and dedicated fathers.

The Connection, despite its somewhat grim subject matter and predictably grim ending is pleasant film to look. Jimenez have some issues with pacing, and the film is in the first part somewhat boring. In second half, when the protagonist solves the problem of corrupt policemen and sets proper trap for the antagonist, there are even opportunities for some interesting action scenes. The Connection probably won’t teach the audience anything new about 1970s crime or international drug trade but its debt to Friedkin’s classic is paid much more efficiently than in many other films with similar theme.

RATING: 6/10