French Connection (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st March 2009).
The Film

"The French Connection" is one of those classic films that comes with a lot of iconographic moments and images, the heart stopping car chase (which at the time was the most incredibly conceived chase in cinema history), a cop shooting a criminal in the back, and the highly quotable "Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" add to that Gene Hackman's natural and flawless performance in a film about the biggest drug bust of New York City history (at the time of course), "The French Connection" does feel dated at times but it's an incredible film that will continue to remain a true cinema classic.

Adapted from the non-fiction book by Robin Moore, (and slightly fictionalized for dramatic purpose), "The French Connection" tells the story of two New York City Detectives; Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) as they investigate a potential drug ring involving a two-bit criminal and run through his sandwich shop, they tail the suspects, bug their phones and uncover a massive drug deal involving a charming (but desperate for cash) French actor Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale) and the French drug Kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). What results is a cat and mouse game between Doyle and Charnier in a climax that will leave you breathless.

Although this film is based in actual events there's a lot that's been fictionalized, and it would have been great had Fox included the book as a cool addition to this release (much like some Criterion titles like "Short Cuts" (1993) for example). The difference between the film and book would have made for an interesting curiosity. In this case the filmmakers where not set out to make a documentary, elements had to be dramatized, but the film feels like a documentary and that's the genius of director William Friedkin. He shot the film with a handheld aesthetic with grainy stock that adds a sense of reality to the picture. It's as if the audience is following these detectives as they investigate their leads. The style lends itself to the procedural elements of the film as we get an insight into the undercover world and the trick in which they use to follow their suspects and gather information. If anything it's certainly engaging.

Supplementing the style in which its shot, the performances felt naturalistic, it's as if the cast were not acting. This could be attributed to Friedkin's tireless, intense and controlling method of garnering performances (this is the man who kept a shotgun on the set of "The Exorcist" (1973) and would shoot the gun to scare actors into a natural performance of fright), in the case of "The French Connection" one of my favorite stories that emerged from the shooting was a scene where both Hackman and Scheider where outside in the cold surveilling the Charnier, the director was disappointed in the way they were 'acting cold' so he locked them in a meat locker in a nearby shop to get them cold enough to deliver a natural enough performance. The actors may have complained at the time, but I don't think Hackman was complaining when he accepted his Oscar for 'Best Actor in a Leading Role' (one of five Oscars it was awarded including 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director').

You can't write about "The French Connection" without mentioning the car chase under the elevated train, at the time it was the most exhilarating chase created for film since "Bullitt" (1968) and set a new benchmark for car chases. The sequence is made all the more memorable due to the fact Doyle is chasing the elevated train above and not another car, to make matters more complicated the stretch of road under the tracks is tight and narrow, leading to many close calls where the hero could have become another statistic and climaxing with a shocking (and controversial) scene in which Doyle shoots the perpetrator in the back.

"The French Connection" does date unfortunately, the film and its events are obviously set in the 1970's but this should be a detraction as the story and performances are engaging, however the score is very much stuck in that period and tends to be grating at times, this is my only problem with the film and even that isn't enough to knock it down a notch in the overall grade. This film may not be for everyone, it can be slow at times and it demands your complete attention, but I highly recommend this film, it's an absolute classic that should sit on every film fans shelf.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Going into this I was worried that Fox might put the film through their digital noise reduction method to remove much of the grain, this would have given the film an unnatural look and would have ruined the gritty nature of the film. Luckily they did not mess with the grain and it's very present. The film's documentary look means that the photography is occasionally dark, utilizing of natural light and is very grainy. The grain does affect the sharpness and clarity at times, especially detail which looks soft but you get used to this quickly. The colors are drab and understated and unfortunately this is where the problems start, as it turns out the colors of the image have been tweaked by the film's director at the behest of the film's cinematographer Owen Roizman, who has been open about his disappointment with this image (check out the interview recording regarding this here for more on that). This of course creates a conflict, the image has been approved by the director but not by the cinematographer and claims it was not as intended. It's hard to take sides on this issue, considering the image does look gritty and raw and this reflects the documentary style, however the colors don't do the film justice and they truly look bad. So I'm on the fence with this one...

Audio

Five audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and finally the film's original English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track (and compared it to the original mono track). The up-mixed track utilizes the original audio and spreads it to accommodate the 5.1 space, while it feels like it has more depth (especially where music is concerned) the overall effect is weak and tinny in its sound. Dialogue remains clear and for the most part distortion free. The original mono track sounded more natural, so purists will likely go for this track over the DTS-HD option.
Optional subtitles are included in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has released this film along with two audio commentaries, an introduction, an isolated score, a pop-up trivia track, a series of deleted scenes, seven featurettes and two documentaries. Some of these extras are ported over from the previous DVD edition but Fox has included a host of new extras for this release as well. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by the film's director William Friedkin. Created for the original DVD released several years ago, this track has the director taking us through the key scenes of the film and commenting on what's happening on screen, he reveals some production information but overall it's as if he's watching the film with you. It would have been good for Fox to have recorded a new track in which the director goes through in detail the process of changing the color timing of the film to this new version. It's a fairly rudimentary track that doesn't really offer up any surprises, if you haven't explored this extra already on DVD and are new to this film it might be worth a listen.

The second feature-length audio commentary by actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, also from the previous DVD release, these two actors were recorded separately. The two take us through the research process, working with the real detectives of the story and learning all the tricks of the trade to better develop their performances. They comment on shooting the film and share their memories from the production among other things. The track can be a little dry at times but I actually preferred listening to this one over the director's track.

The film's director William Friedkin provides a new video Introduction which runs for 1 minute 16 seconds, he welcomes viewers to this new blu-ray edition and explains the new color timed version of the film and on how this is his preferred version.

The film can also be viewed with composer Don Ellis' isolated score surround track presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, I not exactly a fan of the music of the film (even though this film is one of my top all time favorite movies), so this extra wasn't exactly made for me and I skipped through it faster than usual.

You can also view the film with a pop-up trivia track, information about the real case, the film's production, cast, locations etc. pop-up as you watch the film and there's plenty of informative tidbits that are featured in this track for fans of the film.

The film is also D-Box enabled for those that have the equipment.

DISC TWO:

First up on this disc is a collection of 7 deleted scenes, these can be viewed with optional audio commentary by the film's director William Friedkin and also features a video introduction entitled "William Friedkin discusses the deleted scenes" which runs for 1 minute 13 seconds, here the director comments on the cut scenes as being non-essential to the overall plot of the film. The scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Tailing the Frog" which runs for 2 minutes 16 seconds, Doyle describes Charnier to a hotel manager and asks to see his registration book.
- "The Whip Girl" which runs for 1 minute 36 seconds, in this scene a dominatrix pleasures Pierre, the scene contains no audio until the end where he pays her half of what she's owed.
- "Devereaux at Work" which runs for 49 seconds, the actor working in the edit suite as they look over film.
- "Mutchie's Bar and Mutchie's Bar Part 2" which runs for 2 minutes 39 seconds, additional scenes of Doyle at the bar.
- "Girl on a Bicycle" which runs for 51 seconds, an extended scene of Doyle picking up the girl on the bicycle by almost running her over and giving her a hard time.
- "Street Walker" which runs for 42 seconds, Doyle picks up a prostitute.
- "Hector" which runs for 1 minute 25 seconds, Doyle questions Hector if he's still doing drugs.

"Anatomy of a Chase" is an all new featurette that runs for 20 minutes 20 seconds and takes a closer look at the location of the chase sequence from the film, the film's director takes us back to the original location of that scene as he comments on the creating a chase scene that reflected the obsession of the character. The director also meets with the producer and they talk about the genesis of the making of the film, taking it to the studio, and on story elements which needed a big action scene which leads into the development of the sequence for the film.

"Hackman on Doyle" is the next featurette which runs for 10 minutes 49 seconds, in this clip the actor comments on shooting the film and the conditions of the production, being pushed by Friedkin who is a perfectionist. He talks about memorable scenes and on playing the character.

"Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection" is another all new featurette runs for 19 minutes 12 seconds. This is a chat between the film's director and one of the real detectives that broke the case. They talk about the actual case and how they broke it, they talk about the difference between the real case and the film and how much influenced what was in portrayed in the film among other things.

Up next is "Scene of the Crime" the third all new featurette and runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds. In this clip the director takes us to another location of the film as he meets with former detective Randy Jurgensen as they talk about filming the traffic jam scene on the Brooklyn Bridge as they follow Charnier and eventually loose him in the traffic jam.

"Color Timing The French Connection" featurette follows and runs for 13 minutes 15 seconds, in this new clip the director comments on the creation of the new transfer for this Blu-ray edition. Some fans of the film might find this feature hard to watch as the new image has certainly caused some controversy about the director's vision and the cinematographer's original look. We get a look at the process of color timing the film and on how the color takes on a pastel look.

"Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis" is the next new featurette which runs for 10 minutes 4 seconds and takes a closer look at the jazz inspired score for the film. It looks at the musician's background, in creating unusual rhythms and tones for the film's score.

"Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection" is the last of the all new featurette which runs for 13 minutes 47 seconds. This clip compares this film to other films in the noir genre and is discussed by film historians.

"BBC Documentary: The Poughkeepsie Shuffle" is the original documentary aired on British television and ported over from the previous DVD release. It runs for 53 minutes 38 seconds and chronicles the real case and provides generous background for viewers and also goes into the filming process. The clip features an incredible amount of interviews with key players and provides a fascinating look at the original source material and on the film itself.

"Making the Connection: The Untold Stories of The French Connection" is the second documentary which was also ported over from the previous DVD. This feature runs for 56 minutes 33 seconds and features real life detective Grosso as he recounts elements of the original case which he broke with his partner in the early 1960's. This piece provides additional background on the real case whose story was adapted in a book and then into the Oscar winning film.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: C Audio: B- Extras: A+ Overall: B-

 


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