Pardon my French, but The Connection is fucking brilliant. Set in 1970s Marseille, this stylish crime drama is fueled by inspired performances by Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Gilles Lellouche, and vital direction from Cedric Jimenez (Aux yeux de tous). Anyone jonesin for another cops and robbers thriller after seeing Black Mass should rush out and get a copy of this film. It’s relentless and does not disappoint.
Inspired by actual events, Dujardin stars as real-life magistrate Pierre Michel, the man responsible for helping bring down the notorious French Connection, a drug smuggling operation with an international reach throughout the 70s. The film documents his rise from working with troubled youth as a Juvenile Court judge, to the chief of the organized crime unit. Michel immediately targets the drug gang whose operations include importing morphine from Turkey, transforming it into heroin and exporting it to New York City. The head of this gang is a charismatic and ruthless Tany Zampa (Lellouche).
Using parallel storytelling, the lives of Michel and Zampa are told simultaneously, with the two men not meeting until halfway through the picture. In this way, The Connection most resembles Michael Mann’s 90s classic, Heat, featuring De Niro and Pacino in the leading roles.
Michel and Zampa are two halves of the same coin. Michel is driven to do what’s right to protect children getting hooked on smack. But it nearly costs him his family, as he spends more and more time in the office and on stakeouts than at home with his kids and his long suffering wife, Jacqueline (Celine Sallette). It takes nearly losing his family to bring him back home. Dujardin, best known for his comedy work, really nails this role. In a just world he would have been recognized for his acting last awards season, in particular for the emotional scene when Michel loses it and makes a desperate call to Jacqueline from a phone booth.
Zampa, on the other hand, deals in a dark trade and is indifferent if people get hooked on his product. He’s the typical kingpin, only concerned with profit and keeping the business running. Yet at home, he’s the doting father, and a giving husband. His wife, Christian (Melanie Doutey) is his soulmate and partner in life. Jimenez and Lellouche make Zampa likable and sympathetic. He’s easy to root for when everything begins to fall apart in the third act.
As the movie progresses, both men must face double crosses, back stabbing and ruin. The Connection grabs you by the nape and doesn’t let go until the devastating final images. Technically speaking, Jimenez and his crew, especially cinematographer Laurent Tangy and editor Sophie Reine, recall some of the great cinema to come out of the 70s. Names like Scorsese, DePalma, and William Friedkin come to mind. Friedkin, you’ll recall, directed The French Connection, the 1971 Best Picture winner that changed the film landscape with its use of cinema verite camerawork to place the viewer in the moment.
The Connection won multiple accolades in the past year, including the Audience Award for Best in World Cinema at the Sarasota Film Festival, the Lost Weekend Award for Best Actor at Film Club’s The Lost Weekend, and was nominated for two César Awards for Best Costume/Production Design, and for Best Screenplay at the Lumiere Awards in France. The praise of one online critic isn’t going to change the world, but I hope it fires you up to find this movie and let its greatness envelope you.
The Connection is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download. It’s released by Drafthouse Films and Cinedigm. The release comes with bonus features of deleted scenes and an hour long featurettes about the making of the film.