French Connection II Aug 26, 2010 0:37:01 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Aug 26, 2010 0:37:01 GMT -5
In 1971 William Freidkin directed the Best Picture Oscar winner, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, an audacious, pseudo-documentary style cop thriller. Gene Hackman was called up to the big leagues with his turn as Brooklyn cop “Popeye” Doyle whose tenacious, unorthodox police work busted open a heroin ring, while failing to nail the ultimate crook of the title. The picture was a popular and critical smash and in 1975, Hollywood grandmaster John Frankenheimer directed the sequel.
This time the film really doesn’t have much of a plot. “Popeye” arrives in Marseilles to look for the eponymous criminal from the first film who he dubbed “Frog One.” It’s a “fish out of water” story – literally: Doyle arrives upon a scene of the local police cutting open thousands of fish at the police station in the hope of finding narcotics stuffed within them. This is followed by that old standby – Popeye listening as his file is read aloud to him by his French opposite number. The locals aren’t really interested in Popeye and his New York methods, although they do put a tail on him to keep tabs on everything he does. Unfortunately, that’s not much of anything. Once he loses his handlers, Popeye’s picked up by the Frog’s men. Faster than you can say “I expect you to die” they hole him up in a dank hotel and get him doped up on horse. Why they don’t kill him here or later, isn’t plausibly explained – as they had no qualms about trying to kill him in the first film.
What follows is a very protracted segment where Popeye is strung out, and then, after his release, goes through a painful cold turkey withdrawal. We then get a scene of him getting drunk with the French cop that goes on for-ev-er! Hackman seems to be improvising most of this scene and – while he’s a card-carrying acting great – it’s simply excruciating. Next we see Popeye doing some sit-ups as he tries to get back into shape.
Buried amid this chapter in the film, Popeye sits down for the first time in either film with the Frog and it’s a complete letdown, given the stakes of the earlier movie. There’s no real dramatic payoff at all.
All told, this section of the film runs about 45 minutes and any tension to the slim storyline has been relieved as well as any residual goodwill towards the Doyle character. All mine vanished the very next sequence when, back on the streets, Popeye goes looking for some payback and does so in a way that is very nearly psychotic and grievously jeopardizes the lives of dozens of innocent people and firefighters. It’s simply not sane.
How much do you factor in the earlier film when judging a sequel? Shouldn’t the new filmmakers be allowed to strike out on their own and make their case for the material and characters? I guess so, and clearly, Frankenheimer and Hackman try to go deeper into the Doyle character here, unfortunately their efforts to do so largely involve drug-addled or drunken ramblings and police work that’s so bombastic, it makes the first film seem tame – and greatly more believable – by comparison.
There are good scenes of the iconic image of Hackman in his signature hat roaming through the teeming Marseilles streets that look cool, but it largely feels like a standard cop feature. Music in the first film propels the action, here it comments on it in a more conventional way. The earlier film, while striving for a totally realistic vérité look, actually had an ingenious screenplay (by SHAFT creator Ernest Tidyman) that set up characters and incidents we saw play out subtly during the course of the film. No such luck here, little happens and the French cops are bland and uninteresting -- no substitute for the earlier film's secret weapon, a sensationally low-key Roy Scheider. Ed Lauter is introduced as a U.S. serviceman who’ll benefit from the Frog’s heroin sale – shades of AMERICAN GANGSTER – but that strand is abandoned.
If you stick it out through all of FRENCH CONNECTION II – and you may not have the endurance – the last five minutes are a Frankenheimer tour-de-force, easily the best point of the movie and a minor classic little sequence. If only the whole picture had similarly replaced Freidkin's edgy style with Frankeheimer's assured craft in service of a more credible plot,