An art teacher once told me that a beat-up pair of tennis shoes is a lot more interesting to draw than a brand-new pair. I thought of my art teacher’s advice as I re-watched The French Connection during Oscars weekend.
The movie is justly famous for its gritty adaptation of Robin Moore’s book about two New York detectives who attempt to stop a French-based crime ring from distributing a large heroin shipment to the United States. The movie turned Gene Hackman into an international star and featured one of the most memorable car chases in film history. But 45 years later, I am equally impressed at how director William Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman captured the grime and decay of 1970s New York. In the city’s fractured streets, they found a brutality that made New York fertile ground for drug abuse.
The French Connection endures as a testament to the appeal of ugliness, which we see through the perspective of its main character and the urban locations Friedkin chose as a backdrop for the drama.
A Fascinating Protagonist
The main character, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, is based on the real-life detective Eddie Egan, who, along with his partner Sonny Grosso, was the focus of Robin Moore’s book. Doyle and his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (portrayed by Roy Scheider), combine hunches and dogged investigation to try and stop French criminal Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) from importing a massive shipment of heroin into the United States.
Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle as an unlikeable person. He is a racist. He drinks excessively. He treats women like sexual conquests. He is also so reckless in his pursuit of Charnier that he is willing to jeopardize the lives of his fellow police officers and any innocent bystander who happens to be in the vicinity when it’s time to draw his pistol and chase the bad guy. At the same time, his dogged pursuit of Continue reading