‘The Connection’ (2015) Movie Review

In so many ways The Connection (La French) feels like a film Michael Mann would have made with its dedication to intense action sequences, shot with immediacy and edits that give the viewer an understanding of the space within which the characters are interacting. And, like Mann, director Cédric Jimenez doesn’t forgo character, understanding even the small moments between husband and wife, father and son, are important in a crime epic, allowing us to get to know the characters on a more personal level, getting to know them as people rather than just as cop and criminal.

Described as a “European flipside to William Friedkin‘s The French Connection“, The Connection is much more than a marketing blurb intent on piquing the interest of hard-to-attract general audience members. This is a down-and-dirty ’70s crime thriller, with all the texture of the 35mm film it was shot on. In fact, marketing blurbs with this one are easy as you’ll find odes to Mann, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. This isn’t to say it reaches the heights of those filmmakers, but the debt Jimenez owes to his predecessors is quite clear.

Taking to the French shore in telling the story of the notorious drug smugglers of the French Connection, The Connection centers on the efforts of the newly named and incorruptible Marseilles magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) as he sets his sights on Gatean “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche). Tany is responsible for smuggling large amounts of heroin into the United States and in a game of cat and mouse between the two it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s the cat and who’s the mouse.

There isn’t a lot of guesswork involved with the plot and a couple scenes in which Jimenez plays directorial sleight of hand fall a little flat, but the pacing of the action and the character moments work. At one point I jotted down a note about a weird tension between Pierre and his wife (Céline Sallette) that wasn’t entirely *clicking*, but the pieces soon came together. These moments stuck with me, had me questioning whether Jimenez was skimping on developing an aspect of their relationship, mistakenly leaving things unsaid, until the tension was finally resolved as things began to boil over.

As it turns out, I was getting ahead of the story, not allowing the story enough room to breathe. In a story this breathlessly paced I guess that can happen, but in the end Jimenez does well in giving us nuggets of the domestic turmoil brewing beneath the surface. There’s something to be said for keeping the audience on a dramatic tight rope, giving them something to consider until you’re ready to reveal your hand, as the tension here is rarely given a second of reprieve.

Lellouche plays Tany with the greasy qualities of a cliched ’70s, gold chain-wearing drug lord, and I dug it. I dug his intensity, I was convinced of his character’s humanity when seen with his son, the latter of which selling me on his character more than any other quality. Tany isn’t consistently portrayed as a gangster of the highest order, but instead a businessman who simply deals in a different kind of business, with its own share of frustrations. He’s concerned not only with his latest heroin shipment, but also keeping his wife happy, living the life she’s become accustomed to. He’s got a son to care for, shipments to deliver and customers concerned over the price, threatening to go to a competitor. Movies so often portray these kinds of criminals as people that can only be beaten by the authorities, never considering their human side and it’s that aspect of Tany that makes him most memorable.

Jimenez treats Dujardin’s Michel very much in the same way. Amid the breathless shoot outs, roadside assassinations and drug busts, The Connection is very concerned with its characters well-being and Dujardin is given a lot of heavy-lifting. While at the beginning he may appear composed, calm, cool and collected as the tensions mount the sweat begins to pour. What was once a perfectly groomed head of hair is suddenly drenched and unkempt, Michel is falling to pieces and Dujardin nails it as the latter moments require him to run the gamut of emotions on a minute-to-minute basis. This kind of filmmaking can be bothersome for some, but I found it greatly rewarding.

The Connection isn’t without its flaws, however. While the comparisons to Mann, De Palma and Scorsese are apt, it runs into trouble when it can’t live up to its influences. Outside of some of the colorful flourishes reminding me of De Palma, this is very much a Michael Mann film though it lacks in Mann’s control of sound, the hammering of gunfire Mann jars you out of your seat with, and the score and soundtrack is far from what Mann would deliver. A verbal confrontation between Tany and Michel almost immediately conjures memories of the sit down between Pacino and De Niro in Mann’s Heat and if you’re going to bring to light those comparisons you better be operating at the highest level and as much as I found it entertaining, The Connection can’t stand with the big boys.

But this isn’t to diminish this movie in any way. As a piece of period entertainment, The Connection is rock solid.


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