Released in US this past weekend, the French-Belgian production, The Connection (La French in Europe) is based on the infamous French Connection heroin drug scheme of the 1960s and 70s. This plot brought the opiate from Turkey into the US by way of France, thus the name, the French Connection. The story was first popularly dramatized in the 1971 American film, The French Connection starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider and directed by William Friedkin. While both films only claim to be loosely based on the actual drug trade, this latest incarnation is focused solely on the French investigation (versus the NYPD investigation focused on in the Friedkin film) and is set a number of years later.
The film points out early on the devastating impact that the drug was having on western cultures in the seventies and into the eighties and even uses archive footage of then US president, Richard Nixon first declaring the “war on drugs,” to set the stage. What of course followed in the US has been written about, fictionalized on film, studied in academia and debated on endlessly for over four decades. The creation and rise of SWAT raids and the over-militarization of police, the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a blackmarket that has lead to tens of thousands of deaths due to gang violence and innocents fleeing their homeland for better living conditions. While the film doesn’t address the lasting impact this war on drugs has had over the years, it certainly gives us a familiar look into the underground world, the power struggles and the dangers associated with trying to combat it all. From warrant-less (or at least bending the rules) wiretaps, crooked cops and judges, and politicians who turn a blind eye in order to secure their political futures, The Connection brings home the fact that corruption throughout the system and questionable law enforcement tactics in the war on drugs isn’t just an American problem.
While being about 20 minutes too long, at just over two hours the solid cast and directing paired with excellent production design of the era and cinematography, the film is a worthy companion piece, not only to The French Connection (certainly more so than the clumsy 1975 sequel) but to the overall discussion on the failed war on drugs. Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) is fine as the magistrate on the case trying to collar the drug kingpin Zampa. Played wonderfully by Gilles Lellouche, who delivers those clichéd mob moments of random anger at his minions or charming advances to the females with just the right amount of emotion that he never appears cartoonish.
Comparisons to The French Connection are hard not bring up, especially because of the former’s superb filmmaking accomplishments and its place as one of the greatest American films (#93 on AFI’s Top 100). While there are certain moments, particularly the opening scene of a public execution, that mirror the iconic 70s film, this film stands firmly on its own. The film is presented in French with English subtitles.