It was back in 2011 when Jean Dujardin caught the collective eyes of the movie world by winning the Best Actor Oscar for his fabulous work in “The Artist”. It was the first time many people had heard of Dujardin, but in reality he had already established a good career and shown himself to be a solid actor in his home country of France. A quick gander at his body of work reveals an actor with an impressive range who can handle any genre.
In “The Connection” the charismatic Frenchman dives into the 1970s drug trade and delivers one of my favorite performances of the year. The film is based on the French Connection, not so much the movie (although comparisons are inevitable), but the real life network that saw heroin processed in France and then distributed around the world most notably New York City. The French Connection’s roots go back as far as the 1930s but the film examines the time period during the 1970s when the network began to unravel.
Dujardin plays Pierre Michel, a juvenile court officer who gets promoted to Magistrate of Marseille’s organized crime unit. Michel immediately sets his eyes on a powerful drug gang called la French which is ran by the hard-nosed Gaètan “Tany” Zampa (played with a sadistic charm by Gilles Lellouche). Despite the concerns of his reluctant team, Pierre begins chipping away at Zampa’s network. But he learns the hard way that bringing down such an elaborate and ruthless organization isn’t without costs.
Director Cédric Jimenez allows his crime thriller to expand beyond the police station and streets. We also spend time at Pierre’s home where his wife Jacqueline (Céline Sallette) grows tired of his obsession with his work. Her frustration and his work-related stress make home life difficult. There is also the possible threat to his family which grows with each dent he makes in Tany’s outfit. All of this adds another layer to Pierre’s character. He moves from an ambitious crusader to a man left broken, helpless, and overwhelmed.
But the film also spends time inside of Tany’s world. He’s a good husband to his high maintenance wife and a loving father to his children. But when dealing with business we see an entirely different side – one not afraid to extort or kill. We see the layers of his drug operation and the lengths he will go to protect it. Tany begins to feel the pinch from Pierre’s team which leads to bloody infighting with one of his lieutenants. The violence ramps up leading Pierre to be more aggressive. But you always get the sense that Tany has the upper hand.
Again, some will make the mistake of comparing this to the beloved William Friedkin film “The French Connection”. I see it more as a companion piece that looks at things from a different angle. “The Connection” is doing its own thing. Much of the film operates like a meticulous police procedural instead of an action-heavy police flick. It deals us a lot of information, but it’s laid out intelligently and cohesively. The story isn’t built around its action. Instead it is about connecting the dots and it plays its compelling cat and mouse game through clues and discoveries. I loved that approach.
“The Connection” is a strong film that deserves to be judged on its own merits and not by some unnecessary comparison. Shot completely in 35mm, the film looks great and features a strong story centered around two thoroughly compelling characters. It also features another superb performance from Jean Dujardin. The film does run a bit long, but I never felt bogged down or bored. Instead I was completely immersed in this intelligent and detail-driven police drama that is well worth seeking out.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS