In The Connection, a stylish French crime thriller directed by Cedric Jiminez, we are presented with a visually beautiful film which tells an exciting, fast-paced story with an emotional angle to it. Despite this it struggles to offer much in the way of originality: look a little closer and it’s very much style over substance which makes this a fairly enjoyable but all together unremarkable film.
Cedric Jimenez’s second feature tells the story of the 1970s heroin smuggling operation that saw the narcotic transported from Turkey via France’s south coast en route to the United States. In 1969 this operation supplied a remarkable 80-90% of the US’s heroin, later becoming the focus of William Friedkin’s 1971 Oscar winning crime classic The French Connection.
Jean Dujardin, who won the best actor Oscar back in 2012 with silent film The Artist, stars as Pierre Michel, a fearless and determined Magistrate who is brought in to lead the investigation to thwart the heroin gang led by the charismatic but unforgiving Gaetan ‘Tany’ Zampa (played by Gilles Lellouche). Judge Pierre Michel was apparently something of a legend in Marseille, a folk hero willing to stand up to the very toughest in the name of justice so that the streets of the city, and beyond, would be safe.
Based on this portrayal it’s easy to see why he achieved such a reputation in his home town. He’s an old school operator, a maverick of sorts whose arrival on the scene signals a shift in approach to dealing with a gang who have for too long had it easy. Forget long drawn out processes of gathering evidence in order to justify a warrant, he simply arrests first and worries about the charges later. He’s unwavering though not unfair, always willing to break the rules but far from corrupt. While not exactly the most unique of police-force characters, Jean Dujardin nonetheless does a great job of portraying a man whose commitment to succeed is absolute and steadfast, even in the most testing of times.
The Connection oozes nostalgia throughout. The photography has an almost vintage feel to it; faded colours capture the eloquence of the French coast, the glittering sea, motorbikes and well-dressed residents. The scenes of violence are a throwback to gangster films of an era gone by, while the slick montages illustrating the intricate process of a high-level drug operation are reminiscent of Scorsese.
But where The Connection struggles is in the quality of its content. The excellent visuals and editing are not matched by plot development or pacing. As the series of stakeouts, chases and arrests multiply, what began in captivating fashion quickly loses its way. The subplots feel unoriginal and predictable, whilst there’s little insight into criminality, policing or the legal system. Ultimately this makes for fairly uninteresting watching because there’s very little complexity in Jimenez’s interpretation of the events, conflicts or motives of the characters.
While the powerful and emotive ending is certainly welcome, by the time it arrives the anticipation and momentum has long since faded. Consequently the emotional impact of the finale underwhelms. The Connection offers plenty of aesthetic charm, but like a boxer who waits too long before throwing a flurry punches late on, its finish cannot compensate for an unremarkable performance throughout the earlier rounds.