2014, R, 135 min. Directed by Cédric Jimenez. Starring Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Mélanie Doutey, Céline Sallette, Georges Neri, Cyril Lecomte.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., May 29, 2015
A Gallic companion piece to William Friedkin’s seminal 1971 film, The French Connection, The Connection (or La French, as it’s known internationally, indicating a camaraderie no matter the title) offers up the French side of the coin/franc in its telling of one of the most lucrative and longstanding drug trafficking operations of the last century: morphine shipped from Turkey to Marseille, where it was manufactured into heroin, and then shipped off to the U.S. for distribution. The film documents the dismantling of that trade route, centering on Marseille magistrate Pierre Michel (Dujardin) and his efforts to stop crime syndicate boss “Tany” Zampa (Lellouche) and his associates against the scenic backdrop of the French port city in the mid-Seventies. With his radiant smile, manicured sideburns, and tailor-made suits, Dujardin’s Michel is a magnetic presence, an ex-gambling addict whose obsessive nature is the perfect foil for Zampa, a circumspect mob boss who also happens to be a family man, fighting to stay on top of the food chain as lesser sharks circle the water (incidentally, he also has great sideburns and stellar suits). Sound familiar? It is, in ways that are both pleasing and problematic. A two-hour-plus cat-and-mouse game between the two heavyweight actors unfolds, and is enthusiastically filmed against a to-die-for soundtrack, detailing the exhaustive efforts on both sides to take the other down.
There are many pleasures to be found in The Connection, although they are comfortable and well-worn. If you’re playing crime-drama Bingo, you will definitely have an ink-smeared card well before the closing credits (B13: protagonist works too much and neglects his family. N38: montage in a nightclub displaying excess cued to disco music. G57: star witness sleeps with the fishes. I26: police corruption!). The Connection feels like watching an artful and knowing pastiche of the history of late-century crime drama. It’s the cinematic equivalent to the onscreen chemists working their magic, turning the elements of an opiate into a diluted, soaring high that, once over, only makes you long for the purity of those Seventies classics. Luckily, there is no shortage of them at the video store.