The French Connection Review
"The French Connection", 20th Century Studios, 1971
This film finds itself at a crossroads between the prominent styles of Poetic Realism and Italian Neorealism during the 1970s, perfectly characterised by the casting of gene hackman and the heroically-downtrodden caricature he represents.
The treatment to the story here is surprisingly subversive. The 'day in the life' feel to the progression indicates a contemplative deep-dive into the intricacies of its genre in the same vein as Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy". However, the screenplay's leniency on particular tropes and conflicts that position audiences along a familiar line of identification against the baddies highlights a direction away from any tones of self-awareness. The raw sense of purity this helps mesh together could suggest a hidden homage to the past as well as a hand of appraisal to the future to what the genre has to hold, introducing a small-scale sense of intimacy that realises the gritty empty middle-ground that is often ignored in order to glorify the themes of identity thrillers choose to examine. Whilst the overarching sense of staleness does leave the room to highlight on the "good cop bad cop" dynamic that often ties the binaries of good and evil together, the narrative dips in and out of familiar beats between the heroin smugglers and the overall world-building of Brooklyn. Whilst this may have left the room for the writing to weave in different textures and moods in order to help deepen the darkness of drugs that shrouds the city in systemic turmoil, Friedkin instead chooses to keep the audience's attention on the hallowing naturalism that falls almost poetically between the cracks of its "action sequences", highlighting an overwhelming sense of nothingness that is perhaps used to manifest the corrupt morality that plagues the justice system. Although the tools used to exercise this human sense flippantness ring familiar to indie filmmaking, such as with the abundance handheld camera movement and flat, dreary natural lighting, the way in which they are used feel refreshingly sobering, almost bordering the realm of documentary. Again, whilst this may underscore subtext, such as the projection of corrupt immigrant identities in America and the cycle of damage that it feeds in to out of vein of a class system, the painfully down-to-earth tone that the narrative never steers away from almost mocks at the room for meaning.
Overall, whilst I found the pure-bread take on the genre that utilizes its limitations as a character in itself enthralling in some places, I sometimes felt that its self-aware lack of self-awareness was used as a crutch to pad out the obtuse sense of pacing, only occasionally feeling gratifying and rewarding.