Steve Grzesiak’s review:
If it's a 1970s crime thriller, then there is more of a likelihood of me watching it than any other type of film from any other period of history.
I've regularly mentioned just how much I love this genre in this decade (and in fact, just the decade as a whole) and just how difficult it is to narrow it down to even my favourite three crime thrillers from the 1970s. But I am quite sure that The French Connection would be in there and quite possibly at the top of the list. Maybe. But don't quote me on that.
There are two things about this film, which focuses on the increasingly desperate attempts of New York detective Gene Hackman and his sidekick Roy Scheider to shut down a drug ring that may or may not be headed by an elusive Fernando Rey, that are perhaps talked about more than anything else in it. That car chase and "Do you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?"
It's funny how a single line of dialogue in a relative unremarkable scene still raises so much debate. I guess it's because it occurs in what is an otherwise fairly straight-laced and non-surreal film. Stick it in a David Lynch film and I doubt anyone would bat an eyelid. But stuck it in the middle of a gritty cop film and it's a matter of prolonged debate. Except it's not, really. It's a just a line stuck in there to help Popeye Doyle fuck with a criminal's mind.
The car chase, however, is perhaps worthy of even more debate. Not only is it a scintillating and reckless piece of cinema (you try booking some streets in New York to plough a car like a lunatic down these days and Michael Bloomberg would laugh in your face) but it's also a brilliant way of summing up just how desperate Doyle has become in his pursuit of this case. Pounding on the dashboard like a maniac and hurling himself through obstacle after obstacle before shooting his quarry in the back in broad daylight (as seen in the fantastic poster), it is the perfect portrayal of a cop who has lost control. In such a portrayal in a film, you can take the subtle or unsubtle routes, there's not really a right or wrong way of doing it. The French Connection opts for the latter, commits to it, and yet never manages to be overwrought.
If ever there was any doubt that Gene Hackman is one of the great American film actors of all time, I'd like to ask how that is the case after this film. And its sequel (which is tremendous, too) for that matter. His is a performance that is almost unnervingly committed and Roy Scheider once again makes you wonder once again why he only really had the career that aptly summed up his talents in the 1970s.
Perhaps my favourite scene in the film is Doyle staking out the gourmet restaurant that Rey is dining at, in the bitter horrendous cold, spilling rancid coffee all over himself. William Friedkin shows us that crime does pay and asks the question why the cop is actually doing this. Upholding the law or jealousy? Whatever answer you eventually come to, the chances are that you will have an incredible ride getting to it.