Title: The Connection
Director: Cedric Jimenez
Major Players: Jean Dujardin, Giles Lellouche
Out Of Ten: 3.5
Look at the title of thriller The Connection and you get the distinct impression that there’s a word missing. Perhaps the clue’s in the fact that it was made in France. We’re back on the same territory as William Friedkin’s ground breaking cop drama set and made in the early 70s. And now there’s another crusading law enforcer trying to bring down a drug lord.
This time the film is set in Marseilles, the location for French Connection II, but it’s at much the same time, when drugs were flooding into France, processed and sold on for huge profits. The drugs gangs weren’t just interested in making money for their merchandise: they were a mafia in their own right, extorting protection money from the local bar and club owners and, essentially, running the city. At all levels.
The action gets under way with an assassination carried out by a couple of bikers and it’s clear what we’re in for during the rest of the film. Jean Dujardin plays the crusading Jean Michel, a French magistrate, but not in the way we understand it. In France, a magistrate is a very senior judge although here he carries on like a senior police officer. Initially, he works in the juvenile division, trying to prevent drugs reaching teenagers but has made such a name for himself that he’s transferred to the criminal division so that he can really get to grips with tracking down the drug traffickers. And it’s the gang’s kingpin “Tany” Zamper (Giles Lellouche) who’s his main target.
This is old school film making, packed with echoes of other major movies. There’s The French Connection itself, inevitably, with its lone crusader and, almost as a reverse nod in its direction, Michel makes a couple of visits to New York. Then there’s Michael Mann’s Heat with its head-to-head between the cop and his target. As in Heat, they meet just once, and we see they share a number of similarities: both have loving home lives – watch how Michel crumbles when his wife leaves him. And, at a distance, they could easily pass for each other with their sharp suits and long sideburns. But they’ve gone their own way. There’s the car chases as well, admittedly not quite in the same league as Bullitt, but the reference is there all the same. Essentially, it all boils down to good guy versus the bad guy.
Are all those references a distraction? It rather depends on how many cop movies you’ve seen. If your tally is low and you take it for what it is, a crime thriller with its shiny shoes stuck firmly in the past, then it doesn’t have to be. It still makes for a good watch, even if it does feel a touch old fashioned. But if you’ve seen all the films referenced in The Connection and plenty more, it can get frustrating because you start looking out for the next one instead of concentrating on the film.
After winning the Oscar for The Artist in 2011, the obvious question was whether Jean Dujardin would turn out to be a one hit wonder. From this, I’d say he’s not. He’s very good as Michel, increasingly obsessed with catching his adversary and, despite his well-cut suits, never thinking twice about getting hot, sweaty and dishevelled in the pursuit of his quarry. He’s equally convincing as a doting dad and, by all accounts, improvised the scene in the phone box (this is the 70s, remember!) where he breaks down, begging his estranged wife to come back.
At 2 hours 15 minutes, the film’s a smidge too long, yet it’s still a smart and engaging thriller. But you do get the definite feeling that you’ve seen it all before.
The Connection is released in selected cinemas on Friday, 29 May.