Alibi V.24 No.25 • June 18-24, 2015 

Film Review

The Connection

French crime film makes connection to classic American gangster sagas of yesteryear

“ ... It’s the tie, isn’t it?”
“ ... It’s the tie, isn’t it?”

The Connection

Directed by Cédric Jimenez

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche

We can’t talk about the gritty new crime film starring Jean Dujardin (Academy Award winner for The Artist) without mentioning that it’s French. And it’s called The Connection. It is—quite consciously—a thematic, narrative and spiritual homage to the Gene Hackman starrer The French Connection. Like director William Friedkin’s celebrated 1971 crime saga, this film is based on the true story of a notorious, Mafia-run narcotics operation that filtered heroin from Turkey through France and on to the rest of the world. With The Connection, writer-director-producer Cédric Jimenez presents the European flipside to The French Connection. It’s less of a sequel or a prequel and more of a “meanwhile, across the pond” companion piece. And while it never quite matches the energy of the original film, it does read as an enthusiastic tribute to the realistically dark crime sagas of yesteryear.

Dujardin, looking as suave as one can in a wide-lapelled suit, stars as Pierre Michel, a police detective and family man in mid-’70s Marseille, France. Called into the office by his superiors, our man is abruptly promoted to the post of magistrate. His new assignment: Lead a task force to crack down on the city’s growing organized crime rings. This is no small task either. Corruption runs deep in Europe. The Mafia is well entrenched. And the cops are as likely to be on the take as on the case.

The film splits its time between diligent lawman Michel and quietly menacing mob kingpin Gaëtan Zampa (Gilles Lellouche from Mesrine: Killer Instinct). Initially, Zampa feels the pressure of Michel’s full-court-press investigations. Naturally, he tries to bribe the head cop in charge, but Michel proves himself a white-hat-wearing hero. Eventually, the roles reverse, with Zampa catching on to Michel’s sting operations and recruiting allies in other areas of local law enforcement and politics. Dujardin and Lellouche make for fine adversaries, and their handful of scenes together provide the film’s brightest spark. The script clearly sees their characters as two sides of the same coin—hardly a psychological revelation in this type of movie. The two actors even share the same flinty good looks. Both Michel and Zampa are stubborn and beholden to their own righteous codes of conduct. Neither man likes to lose. This single-mindedness takes its toll on both their personal lives. It’s this hard-fought, repercussion-filled, man-to-man battle that gives The Connection its backbone.

Jimenez has clearly spent a lot of time watching old American gangster films. Shades of everything from Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets to Brian De Palma‘s Scarface drift before the lens of Jimenez’ camera. Unfortunately for him, he’s not the only filmmaker to fetishize the cinema of crime. Michael Mann (Thief, Manhunter, Heat) got there first and did it with considerably more style. Make no mistake: The Connection is a class operation, with absorbing actors and slick production values. But it can’t match the kinetic action of The French Connection—what with its blunt violence, hard-bitten dialogue and legendary car chase. (Hell, John Frankenheimer couldn’t even reach that high-water mark with French Connection II.)

Frankly, Jimenez’ film doesn’t even try to upstage its idol. There’s a fair amount of gunplay and bloodshed, but The Connection is far more low-key with its action. It plays more like a standard police procedural with some effectively retro flourishes. Nevertheless, the film’s literal-mindedness—from its referential title to its carefully curated soundtrack to its doggedly standard cops vs. criminals plot—ends up being rather endearing. Know what you’re getting yourself in for, and you’ll be happily unsurprised.