Review: The Connection (TIFF 2014)
PLOT: A magistrate (Jean Dujardin) stationed in Marseilles in the seventies, tries to dismantle the infamous “French Connection” which is supplying millions of dollars worth of heroin to the United States. His main target is the kingpin (Gilles Lellouche) at the head of the organization, which the media dubs “La French.”
REVIEW: Those of you reading this who may only be familiar with Jean Dujardin through his Oscar-winning turn in THE ARTIST or his small part in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET should be intrigued to see this big-budget French star vehicle for him, which – with the benefit of it being in his native language – gives him a juicier part than he's been getting in North America. Of course, in France he's a megastar, but even there this could be seen as a change of pace.
Had this been made in France in the seventies, it would have been easy seeing guys like Jean- Paul Belmondo (to whom Dujardin is often compared and also makes a kind of cameo when a character is watching one of his films on TV), Alain Delon or Lino Ventura in either of the leads. Dujardin has always had something somewhat sinister about him, with his broad, perhaps untrustworthy grin and too cool sartorial style. Here however, he plays a full-on good guy, with his magistrate, Pierre Michel, being shown as one of the most incorruptible guys in France. Early on, it's shown that as a reformed gambling addict, and former child protective services officer, he has a lot of compassion for the kids he sees od'ing on drugs every day, and when Lellouche's goons try to pay him off, he gives all the money to a drug treatment center. Basically, he's the paragon of morality, and it's nice to see Dujardin play such a virtuous part, which he does well.
By comparison, Gilles Lellouche, who was the hero in a great french movie called POINT BLANK a few years ago, plays the “bad guy”, who's a Naples-born wiseguy named Tony Zampa. Lellouche's Zampa is not you typical villain, in that he's shown to have a compassionate streak, and is so anti-drug in his own life that when he discovers an associate of his is a coke-head, he forces him to do a massive rail to try an teach him a potentially deadly lesson. Like you would have seen in a lot of French “policiers” in the seventies, Dujardin and Lellouche's characters are more alike than they are different, with both being devoted family men and ultra-faithful husbands, and both having a close knit group of associates they treat like family. The only difference is what side of the law they're on, but in a departure, the guys do not have a grudging respect for each other. They only have one face-to-face, but unlike a similar scene in HEAT, this is not a friendly encounter. Both leads are really well-cast, and it's easy to see why they're such huge stars in France, where this is poised to be a blockbuster.
THE CONNECTION (its french title, LA FRENCH is way cooler) is especially interesting for fans of the classic William Freidkin movie THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with this showing the other side of the heroin pipeline, and what cops in France were doing on their side to shut down the connection. While unlike that movie, THE CONNECTION isn't especially action packed, but rather character-driven crime epic, it's a pretty interesting tale. Director Cedric Jimenez has clearly taken a page from Martin Scorsese, with lots of music montages and a broad scope. It's a pretty solid – if unoriginal approach – and while THE CONNECTION is maybe a tad long at nearly two and a half hours, it's nonetheless a really solid crime drama, and definitely something any crime-drama fan will want to check out.