This is based on the same events that inspired ‘The French Connection’ but since this movie is from France they just call it ‘The Connection’. Actually, the French title is, confusingly, ‘La French’. Not ‘Francais’ but the English word ‘French’, as it takes its name from the real life Marseilles mob from the 70’s and 80’s. Comprenez Vous?
We follow Jean DuJardin’s Pierre just as he’s tasked with disrupting the activities of Tany Zampas’ (Gilles LeLouche) mob. The mob acts as a conduit for heroin from Africa and Turkey. Marseilles is the first port of call on its way to New York. Elsewhere too but mostly New York since that place seemed lousy with heroin in the 70’s. Don’t worry about the ins and outs of the scheme though. This follows the well worn path of a showdown between two charismatic alpha males on opposite sides of the law.
Initially the idealistic Pierre seems to be about to rub his new co-workers up the wrong way by actually trying to stem the flow of smack into Southern France. He wins them over almost instantly with his willingness to bend, break or ignore the rules in pursuit of his goal. It’s as if Kevin Costner in The Untouchables went straight from boy scout to ruthless in the first act. It turns out that that too would have made an entertaining film.
The Connection feels derivative but, by and large, is enough fun for that not to matter. The locations are exotic, characters live the good life (but for how long?) and a genuinely amazing and fun soundtrack propels countless Scorsese knock off montages forward. With a very Gallic twist, one montage features a quick game of boules. The plot, too, recalls Heat and one scene, in particular, unflatteringly invites comparison to that pissing contest masterpiece. The fact that we’ve seen this before isn’t a great weakness, though. It’s nice knowing where you stand.
More serious is the fact that the supporting characters are consigned to nothing roles- the nagging wife, the red shirt gang member etc. This affects the film to the point where the grief we’re meant to feel for the latest archetype to die it feels totally unearned. Also, the runtime is far, far too long and nearly sinks the whole film under its own weight.
Overall this is a fun, violent holiday. The beaches look lovely, the sunshine is interspersed with gunfire and it has two extremely entertaining performances. If this film can unwisely remind the audience of Heat I can unwisely remind you of Pauline Kael. This is a bit of ‘Kiss Kiss’, a bit of ‘Bang Bang’. It never quite rises above that level but isn’t without appeal.