Given that its original title was ‘La French’, it’s fair to say the makers of this Marseille-set heroin-smuggling thriller aren’t worried about distancing themselves from comparisons with William Friedkin’s 1971 Oscar- winner. And indeed, Cédric Jiminez’s film plays up its mid-’70s period setting and New Hollywood influences with saturated cinematography, screeching car chases, wide-collar suits and hot blasts of disco. It also sports the most schnozz-tacular array of craggy-faced macho men this side of Easter Island.
This is the same story as ‘The French Connection’, told from the European perspective. ‘The Artist’ actor Jean Dujardin plays Pierre Michel, the hardworking magistrate who is bumped up to the Organised Crime division to deal with the city’s spiralling opiate export problem. Gilles Lelouche is his nemesis, ‘Tany’ Zampa, a crafty Neapolitan thug making money hand over fist by shipping his goods across to New York. The film documents their years-long battle of wits, as deals are struck, allegiances tested and pawns sacrificed.
The script is solid, the period recreation spectacular and the performances muscular, but ‘The Connection’ suffers from a severe case of overfamiliarity. Too many of the subplots feel tired, from Pierre’s marital troubles (shocker: he’s spending too much time at work and not enough with his kids) to the inevitable discovery of police corruption (guess what: it goes right to the top!).
So when it does try to step out of line with a late-in-the-game twist, it’s too little, too late, and too poorly handled. The result is enjoyable enough while it lasts, but it won’t have the longevity of its genre-busting namesake.