The Connection Dir. Cédric Jimenez

[Drafthouse Films ; 2015]

Styles: crime film
Others: The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Serpico

Throughout the 60s and 70s, an illicit smuggling operation known as “the French Connection” brought millions of dollars worth of heroin from Turkey to France and onwards to the United States. The operation and its name inspired William Friedkin’s classic, 1971 crime-thriller The French Connection. Flash forward to 2015, when director Cédric Jimenez offers a similar take on the same operation from the French point of view, simply titled The Connection, perhaps in lieu of the much-catchier The U.S. Connection.

It’s hard to find a lot to say about Jimenez’s film, because to say that The Connection covers well-trodden territory would be a nightmarish understatement. The film plays like a group of 70s crime-film lovers got together and tried to make the most straightforward tribute to Friedkin, Scorsese, De Palma, and Coppola they could possibly imagine. The Connection manages to check off nearly the entire laundry list for gangster films. There’s the fresh face in the Organized Crime unit (Jean Dujardin) who’s, you know, just a little unorthodox, and addicted to justice to boot; the scary drug kingpin (Gilles Lellouche) who’s as ice-cold as he is untouchable; drugs; sleek car chases; clubs; tracking shots; strippers; cardboard dialogue; Nancy Sinatra covers; 35mm film; and a corruption conspiracy that — well, you guessed it — might just go all the way to the top. As a 70s gangster film tribute, it works all too well, because the end result is so cliché that even the phrases necessary to describe it are cliché.

And yet The Connection isn’t without its moments of aesthetic beauty. Set in Marseille and filmed in classic 70s 2:35:1, there’s an endless number of beautiful views of the Mediterranean, and cinematographer Laurent Tangy has clearly studied his 70s cinema and provides a smorgasbord of tracking shots, sexy vintage montages, and gritty handheld action — all filmed in 35mm. But without an equally-rich story to match the visuals, the end result is hollow, to say the least. Even the smarmy face of Jean Dujardin can’t provide a shred of meaningful character development to squeaky-clean magistrate Pierre Michel. The uber-French sneer that made Dujardin work so well as an archetypal film actor in The Artist and a conceited Swiss banker in The Wolf of Wall Street now makes him look more like a parody of a film hero than a believable one.

It’s not to say that the crime film genre has exhausted its possibilities: look no further than Matteo Garrone’s 2008 film Gomorrah for an example of a revisionist gangster film that turns the genre on its head. In contrast, Cédric Jimenez has clearly done his homework and idolizes the old masters appropriately. It’s just time to show us something they haven’t done.

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