Jean Dujardin fronts a sporadically successful thriller, based on real events
The 1971 release of William Friedkin’s The French Connection, inspired by Robin Moore's non-fiction book, was followed by a decade-long slew of hard-boiled police-versus-drug-dealers cash-ins. Released in France last year as La French, Cédric Jimenez’s thriller returns to the original news story which inspired Moore, with the pursuit of heroin smugglers seen here from the point-of-view of French cops.
The Artist’s charismatic star Jean Dujardin stars as Pierre Michel, a driven Marseilles magistrate moved at the outset to the city's organised crime division who, with the support of local police, sets out to catch drug kingpin Gaëtan 'Tany' Zampa (Gilles Lellouche from 2010's Point Blank). While Tany parties hard to the electro sounds of Kim Wilde’s 'Cambodia', Pierre is doomed to domesticity and a souring relationship with his long-suffering wife Jacqueline (Céline Sallette), until the net closes on both men.
There are no surprises at all over the gruelling 135-minute duration of Jimenez’s expansive thriller, which spans the 70s and early 80s; underground car-park shoot-outs, faceless motorcyclist assassins and brutal basement interrogations are all in place, with sunglasses, sharp suits and wide sideburns garnishing the story with retro style. But stripping narratives back to a simplistic cops-and-robbers theme has largely only worked for Michael Mann up to now, and The Connection rarely shows the depth required for its challenging length. Students of French crime cinema will recognise Jimenez’s film as being closer to the TV movie sprawl of the two Mesrine films than the venomous philosophical poetry of Jacques Audiard’s far superior A Prophet.
That said, there’s a lot for genre fans to like, from Dujardin’s winning central performance to an eclectic soundtrack that sets a montage of street crime to Al Wilson’s classic song 'The Snake'. The visceral bursts of violence that punctuate Pierre's quest keep things edgy enough, but The Connection doesn’t quite deliver on its considerable promise.
Selected release from Fri 29 May.