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February Blind Spot: The French Connection(1971)

Posted on the 21 February 2013 by Shantanu Ghumare @u_me_films
February Blind Spot: The French Connection(1971)When I put up the line-up for this series back in December, almost everyone came out in support of one movie on that list. It didn't really surprise me since I knew it was a popular movie. So the second month of the Blind Spot goes to the movie that got most enthusiastic response when I put up the line-up - The French Connection(1971), Best Picture Winner in that year's Oscar. It also seemed fitting that I should be watching this BP winner in the month of Oscars.
First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
For multiple reasons actually. First and foremost, I think it is one of the most respected BP Winners. I think most everyone agrees that The French Connectiondeserved to win, something that rarely happens these days and after 40 years of its release, its regarded with equal respect is some kind of a miracle. It is not only considered as a great movie overall but also as one of the best cop movies made ever. I have been meaning to check it off my list for a long time and could not think of a better way to do this.

So, what is the story about?
Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, played by Gene Hackman in his Oscar winning role, and his partner Salvatore 'Cloudy' Russo, Roy Scheider in his only role I have seen outside of Jaws(1975) and its sequel, are cops working in New York City's narcotics department. One day after they are done with work, they go to the bar for a drink and one of the tables attracts their attention. Popeye feels something fishy about it and working on a hunch, persuades Russo to tail them. Chasing one of the couples on the table through the might, they see them dropping something off in Little Italy and return to their real house and their candy store in working are area of Manhattan. They soon find out that this couple is Sal Boca and his wife Angie. They also find out that they both have previous records and many dubious connections. Because they think there is something big play going on in the background, they go to their boss to ask for some help and let them continue working on this case. Because of Popeye's background, he initially complains but eventually agrees to see if this can go anywhere.
February Blind Spot: The French Connection(1971)One of the reasons Popeye and Russo get the permission they want is because they connect Boca to a guy named Joel Weinstock whom police have been keeping an eye on for long time. After many days of nothing, their efforts finally materialize when they hear Boca talking with Alain Charnier, French drug kingpin responsible for sizable percentage of drugs that comes into NYC from Europe. He is also accompanied by Pierre Nicoli, a killer for hire and Charnier's right hand-man. With the two big fish involved in the case, this case now becomes much more important and what follows is the game of Cat and Mouse to the bitter end for all the parties involved.  

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
There is so much to like in this movie - Friedkin's direction, Gene Hackman's amazing Oscar winning leading performance, earnestness of the characters, the way it is shot, it's use of silence, the way everything in this movie feels so tangible, so real. I love that these characters are flawed because it makes them so much real, so much more relatable. I loved the fact that at one point there is an almost 15 minute long stretch where there is not a single dialog and it did not bother me at all. Hell, I almost didn't even realize it. Friedkin takes very good care of whatever happening on the screen is taking the story forward, with dialog or without it. So there is always something going on the screen which is so thoroughly engaging that you don't really miss the dialog so much.
But if you asked me what I liked the most?, my answer might surprise you. Because it is Chases. More specifically, the professional manner in which they are shot. There have been numerous occasions when I see someone following someone else, like 10 feet behind them or driving bumper to bumper with their car and every time I am help myself but throw my arms and be amazed. I have never followed anyone in my life but if you are following someone, I think you wouldn't want them to know. Otherwise there is not point in it. And I never understood why filmmakers don't take care of it because I don't think it costs them anything more just to keep some safe distance. So I loved that Friedkin paid attention to this small but important detail, especially when half of the movie is nothing but chases. At one point, Gene Hackman even crosses the road just because person he is tailing did and he wants to keep that safe distance. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out for our Popeye since the guy already knows he is being followed but it sure worked for me.
February Blind Spot: The French Connection(1971)After having seen it, do I agree with it's 'essential' status? and why?
I sure do. 70s was one of the best decades for American Cinema, probably even the best. Even though my own experiences are little limited, I think I have seen quite a few movies from that time and I think I can agree to this being one of the best movies of the decade. You have to realize that this automatically puts it into the contention for best ever. It certainly is amongst the best cop movies I have seen and I have seen fair share of them too. If this isn't enough for you, we have film's legacy to turn to. The French Connection carved the way for many more thrillers to follow. Film's hero isn't the most ideal leading man. He is often wrong, he often falls on the wrong side of the line, he is violent, even racist and he is borderline obsessive about his job and about doing things his way. Popeye following the elevated train at a very high speed, through heavy traffic is a single sequence that can associate him with every attribute noted. For the record, it is a damn fine car chase. Definitely one of the best I have seen, once again setting up the stage for many, many more to follow. I should also note that it was shot with no permits, no stalling the traffic and Hackman doing most of his own driving. And in the end, overall grim, realistic feel of the movie and the downbeat ending were also a step ahead to the police dramas of the period. I am convinced.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Rather than opening new avenues, this one actually caps few off.I have now seen every single Best Picture winner from '70s, widely considered as most influential, if not the Best, decade of American cinema. I have already checked off '90s and 2000s and hope to clear off '80s this month itself so as to set the bar as far back as 1969 - Midnight Cowboy(1969) should be the earliest BP winner I haven't seen at the end of this month, whatever may be the outcome this weekend.

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