The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971, USA)

Along with The ExorcistThe French Connection is widely regarded as director William Friedkin's masterpiece. As The Exorcist redefined the horror genre, The French Connection in many ways invented the modern action film. Largely inspired by European cinema, in particular Costa Gavras's film ZThe French Connection has a raw, kinetic energy that many films since have tried to emulate with varying levels of success. Few films have captured New York City as it is like The French Connection. Friedkin got access to the city in a way that few had up until this point, largely through working with the local police force.

While many have written at length about the film's infamous chase scene, less has been written about the film's moral ambiguity. Hackman as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle is perhaps one of the first repulsive officers of the law on film. He is a force of nature, and by the end of the film, it is unclear if he is one of the bad guys or one of the good guys. Friedkin was notorious with Hackman on set, driving him to the point of rage often, and this is visible in his performance.

The film's "speed, noise, and brutality" (as Pauline Kael called it in her notably negative review of the film) is still a force to be reckoned with in 2024. It is only now that we have seen the film imitated so often that, as with The Exorcist, it loses some of its force. The film also represents perhaps one of the only times an Oscar sweep was deserved, with the film taking home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing (with noms for Supporting Actor, Cinematogrphy, and Sound). The French Connection is the quintessential opening salvo of the New Hollywood movement.



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