Reviewed by: Matt Brighton
Plot: What’s it about?
Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) loves to drink, has a short temper, and is quite intolerant, but he is also one of the finest detectives on the force. He and his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) have been trying to bust open a narcotics ring for some time, but have had limited success to this point. But now they have reason to believe a candy store is involved somehow and after some time passes, they learn their suspicions were well founded. It seems a massive shipment of heroin is due to arrive soon and as such, the two cops decide to shut it down and bring the criminals to justice. Of course, the dealers don’t intend to allow that to happen, so once Doyle starts nosing around, he is almost killed in the process. This doesn’t deter Doyle from his tasks however, as now he has even more resolve to close these guys down, but it won’t be easy by any means, as they now want him dead more than ever before…
The French Connection has landed in high definition, with a new transfer that exhibits William Friedkin’s intended vision, a move bound to stir up controversy. But more on the visuals later, in the proper section. This hard hitting, gritty crime picture won over audiences and critics alike, even taking home five Oscars in 1971, including the one for Best Picture. It is not hard to see why it has garnered such success either, as it is a superb film in all respects, even if modern films have aped it so much, causing some of the elements to seem overdone. But when this movie was released, it was like nothing viewers had seen and I think it still holds a lot of power, which is quite impressive. The harsh events depicted have even more impact than most films also, as the story is based on a real life series of events, though perhaps loosely based might be more to the point. This is one of the finest crime films of all time and perhaps one of the best films period, so I highly recommend this release, whether you love the new look or despise it.
Although his work has become rather inconsistent these days, William Friedkin still stands as a very gifted filmmaker, as evidenced by The French Connection. I am unsure if I would call this his finest picture, but it is one of his best two or three, with strong reasons to name it as the best one, to be sure. As you can tell from the included documentaries and other materials, Friedkin wasn’t always easy to work with on this shoot, but his results are hard to argue with, as this is truly a modern classic, in all respects. He and his crew delivered on all counts with this movie, from the excellent visual style to the realism of the events to the awesome car chase, which is without a doubt one of the finest ones in movie history. Other films directed by Friedkin include Blue Chips, The Guardian, Sorcerer, The Brink’s Job, and The Exorcist. The cast includes Gene Hackman (Hoosiers, The Firm), Roy Scheider (Marathon Man, Blue Thunder), and Fernando Rey (That Obscure Object of Desire, Cold Eyes of Fear).
Video: How does it look?
The French Connection is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is sure to delight some and send others into tantrums of rage. William Friedkin has tinkered with the visuals to achieve his intended vision, a process which again, is sure to divide viewers. The visuals here look worn and off kilter, grain is thick and colors tend to bleed. This seems off putting, but this is what the director’s vision entails. I’m sure complaints will never end, but it is what it is. If this is how Friedkin wants it to look, we’re not going to change his mind. The image is by no means soft, but with muted colors and heavy grain, the texture is rough, to be sure. A featurette on the second disc helps explain the process and the director’s rationale, but regardless, this transfer does replicate his intended vision well.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a Fox release, so of course we have a DTS HD 5.1 option on board. The audio is rock solid, with a natural overall sound that never disappoints. The more action driven elements stand out more than the others, as presence is enhanced there and power is a little more evident. This is still not a bombastic soundtrack however, don’t misunderstand. But this track makes the most of the film’s sound design and never forces surround use, which helps retain that natural sound. The music sounds great and dialogue is clear, so no issues in those areas. This release also includes a Dolby surround option, a mono soundtrack, Spanish and French language tracks, and subtitles in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a loaded edition and it all starts with an audio commentary with director William Friedkin, who provides a lot of insight and tells it like it is. I was pleased to hear Friedkin voice his opinions on various subjects, as directors often gloss over any problems and such, but Friedkin simply states the truth and that adds a lot to his session. He touches on all sorts of topics, from his thoughts on the cast, to his approach to the film’s visuals, and of course, the film’s legendary car chase. You can also hear comments from actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, but they provide audio interviews and as such, their comments are not screen specific. Still, a nice inclusion. The first disc also houses a trivia track and an isolated musical score, both of which are worth a spin, without a doubt.
The documentary pieces, both of which offers a landslide of information about how The French Connection was made. The first is the 2000 piece Poughkeepsie Shuffle, which was made for the BBC and runs about fifty minutes, all of them well used. This documentary tracks the film from inception to reaction, via various interviews with all sorts of people connected to the picture in some way, shape, or form. Of course, Friedkin, Hackman, and Scheider are all seen here, but also main crew members, some of the real people portrayed within the flick, and other faces appear, all of whom seem to have a good story to tell. The second documentary is Making the Connection: The Untold Stories, which is a newly created piece and clocks in at fifty-four minutes in total. This provides even more interviews with the cast, crew, and beyond, with a focus more on the aftermath and how the film was received. Friedkin reveals a lot of information in this one, so fans of the flick will not want to miss this top notch feature. Also on deck are some deleted scenes, a few interviews & featurettes, and of course, a look at Friedkin’s process used to achieve the film’s new visual design.