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
This sounds great, Keith! I was impressed with Jean Dujardin’s performance in “The Artist” and then wondered where he went to. I’m glad to see he’s returned in an intelligent film. “A companion piece” to the French Connection. Okay! I’m ready to rent it.
Dujardin has made several films since The Artist but they have mainly been back in his home country of France (aside from his appearance in The Monuments Men). He is in top form here Cindy. It’s a role that takes him through a wide range of emotion and all of it feels earned and honest. He does a great job. Probably not an easy film to find but I do know it has had a limited VOD run on DirectTV.
Oops. Yes, he was in , The Monuments Men”. I revisited it just the other day.
And what did you think? I still think I’m one of the only people to adamantly defend The Monuments Men! 🙂
I have heard you defend this film before. I show this in class as a matter of fact. The story line is awesome and Cate nails the French accent. What’s wrong with the film are the lame ensemble cast, not because they can’t act but because the script was weak. Otherwise, I loved it.
I see where you’re coming from. I think it’s lighthearted homage to the old wartime buddy movies didn’t connect with those wanting a more serious interpretation of the story. I get that. As someone who loved those films it struck a fun chord with me.
I think people wanted an Oceans 11 kind of film or explosions. What they got was a 50s style B movie. I couldn’t care for any of the characters except for Cate. Sounds like I didn’t like it, but that’s not true. I would rate it 3 stars.
No, no, no, I see where you’re coming from and I like the 50s B movie comparison. Cate was quite good and many of her scenes had more tension than the more action-oriented ones.
Really strong movie. I loved the procedural elements and the performances are top notch. Search it out if you get a chance.
Man, what a coincidence. I’ve just been chatting to Stu at Popcorn Nights about this. This film totally passed me by but it’s right up my street. I’m very intrigued to see this. Especially after another glowing review. Nice one bro!
I watched it and wrote this up a couple of weeks ago. Really made an impression on me. I love Dujardin already and he nails it here. Sadly the film was dismissed by some critics who insisted on comparing it to The French Connection. That’s nuts to me. It’s an entirely different perspective.
Good read Keith, and I’m really glad to see a bit of love for this film, it’s sadly been overlooked by a lot of people. I really enjoyed it and agree the two leads are excellent. Really brings the city alive too.
Thanks man. I too was proud to see someone else talking about this picture. I’ll be looking up your take on it shortly.
Great point about the city. Nearly everything worked for me and it was smarter and more unique than I expected. But as someone who has seen it, what do you think of the comparisons to The French Connection? Some have dogged it for that which I think is terribly unfair.
I get why people have done that because of the subject matter but it’s definitely wide of the mark. If anything French Connection 2 is the one that’s vaguely similar, purely because of the Marseille setting, but even then it’s a quite different film.
You’re right, the subject matter is the same, but for me it’s like comparing movies about the Holocaust (obviously on a much smaller scale). They deal with the same true subject matter but that is where the comparisons often end. I feel that some critics went to far because as you mentioned it’s a quite different film.
I admired how stylish the film was and it reminded me a bit of The French Connection too, but just dragged a little too much imo and I couldnt ever get fully invested in the story. But yes, I do think Dujardin is superb in this.
I see where you’re coming from. It does have a strong procedural element to it which does slow things down a bit. But I gotta admit, I was thoroughly into it.
Great to hear from someone else who has seen it.
Great review! Dujardin is in it so it’s enough for me to see this one:)
Thanks! It’s well worth checking out. Slow moving and riveting at the same time.
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I would love to see this wonderful artist, Jean Dujardin in an Indian Avatar. I’m sure he will give a lot of stars a run for their money. He has an amzing screen presence & body language to portray what many fail to achieve inspite of good dialogues. Am a Fan of this Man.
He is a fabulous actor with a surprisingly large range. Did you ever see his two “OSS 117” films? They are spoofs of the Bond franchise and Dujardin is hysterical.
No Keith. But i promise you i will soon.It’s hard to get these movies in India but i will try all means to get a copy. Thanks a lot for your suggestions friend.
I completely understand. They came out around 2005-2007. They may be tough to find. I was only able to come across them on Netflix.