Monday, May 11, 2015

The French Connection, as seen from the French view, in Cédric Jimenez's THE CONNECTION

Same decade, same drugs, but mostly a different location (though we do get one scene that takes place in New York City), THE CONNECTION (called La French in its home country) takes us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear (Marseilles, 1975) as a single French police magistrate (played by Jean Dujardin) attempts to get the goods on a prime drug trafficker (Gilles Lellouche). Messieurs Dujardin and Lellouche have worked together several times now -- most uproariously and cleverly in The Players, which can be streamed digitally via Netflix and elsewhere -- and they make quite a team: French hunks who also possess a load of talent, with the former here portraying the good hunk, and the latter the bad.

As co-written (with Audrey Diwan) and directed by Cédric Jimenez (shown at left), this 135-minute movie does not exactly speed along but neither does it lag. The Connection simply lays out its tale, stringing together incident after connected incident, until at last the payoff arrives. If it is much less gritty (though a half-hour longer) than its American counter-part, The French Connection (the new film is said to be telling a similar tale from the European viewpoint), it is also much less flashy, though full of more beautiful scenery. Both films are fairly "surface" -- a necessity, I think, when dealing with this particular sub-genre (drugs) of the crime movie.

In between the various set-ups and "hits," we get an occasional few moments of "feeling" -- as when our magistrate (Dujardin, above) tries to get one of his drug-fueled informants to go straight and later pays his respects to her family, post-overdose. For his part, Mr. Drug King (Lellouche, below) has a few thoughtful moments, too, though not enough nor as deep to make him actually question his life-style or from where and how he obtains same.

There's a scene -- not particularly believable, but fun -- midway along in which our twosome face each other down only to bid each other adieu until a later day. The fact that these two actors look look so similar -- in body type, hair and skin coloring, even somewhat facially -- makes their pairing much the more interesting, and they and their director use this similarity quietly but effectively.

While this is, of course, mostly a man's movie -- that's Guillaume Gouix, above, as the clever law-enforcement rookie -- the females are given their minor moments, with Céline Sallette (below), as Dujardin's long-suffering wife (as usual in this genre) and Mélanie Doutey as the barely-seen spouse of our drug lord.

Prominent in the cast is another French notable, Benoît Magimel (below), who seems to have gone from a hot and sexy, young leading man to a first-class character actor in what looks (to us in America, at least) like the blink of an eye. Here, Magimel plays "The Wolf," whose unrestrained libido and violence, not to mention his surprisingly bullet-resistant body and head, helps bring things to a boil.

As I say, if you appreciate a decent policier/thriller, by all means take a look at The Connection. Full of lovely scenery, interesting architecture and camera angles, crack performances and enough violence to sate the current mainstream art crowd, it'll get you where you want to go.

The film's handling of its time-frame -- the 1970s -- is very well-done, too. Most everything, from the cars to the clothes to the large and clunky mobile phones with the long antennae (below), seems correct without having to scream "nostalgia!", as certain movies prefer to do it.

One thing you may wonder throughout, however -- particularly if you've watched as many Italian Mafia/drug movies as I -- is why, since we are dealing with some Italian mobsters here, they have not simply and more promptly wiped out their law enforcement antagonists. Well, this movie takes place mostly in France, where this is not, perhaps, quite so easily done. Never fear: By the end of our journey, France has become much closer to Italy in ways we might prefer were otherwise.

The Connection -- from Drafthouse Films, in French with English subtitles -- makes its American theatrical debut in Santa Barbara at the Plaza d'Oro this Wednesday, May 13, then opens in New York City and Los Angeles at, respectively Landmark's Sunshine Cinema and The Landmark on Friday, May 15. Over the weeks to come it will open all across the country. Click here and scroll down to see currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.  

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