French Connection II (1975)
What happens when you’re a N.Y. cop sent to France to bust a dope ring… You can’t speak French. The French cops hate you. Your own people have set you up… YOU EXPLODE!”
French Connection II (1975)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson
Synopsis: “Popeye” Doyle travels to Marseille to find Alain Charnier, the drug smuggler who eluded him in New York.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Having not seen the first French Connection, I can’t comment on how this compares, but, as far as sequels go, French Connection II is pretty good, despite getting off to a regrettable start by boasting some horrendously cheesy 70’s soundtrack music over the opening credits.
One of my main issues with this movie is why they had to make Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman – Bonnie and Clyde, Zandy’s Bride) such a hugely dislikeable character. From the opening scene, in which he has a relatively minor dispute with a taxi driver, Doyle (who, in his pork-pie hat resembles a slimmed-down Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons) proceeds to go out of his way to antagonise everyone who crosses his path. Throughout the film he is relentlessly arrogant and abrasive, stubbornly refusing to accept the conciliatory overtures of an originally hostile Henri Barthelemy (a good performance from Bernard Fresson as Doyle’s French counterpart), and making it difficult at times for the viewer to care about the fate of his character. Perhaps the intensity of the character’s distastefulness is down to the vitriolic and aggressive nature of Hackman’s performance, which has to be applauded (I’ve always considered Hackman to be a character actor who became a star purely on the strength of his acting ability – if you need an example, watch his drunken baseball monologue in the prison cell while undergoing cold turkey).
Claude Renoir’s cinematography is excellent throughout, flawlessly capturing the flavour of the grimy, litter-strewn back-streets and slums of Marseilles. However, even Renoir can do nothing to salvage director Frankenheimer’s unfortunate decision to use POV shots during the climactic chase.
My only other gripe with French Connection II is the poor plotting. Would a ruthless drug smuggler like Charnier (Fernando Rey – The Savage Guns, Guns of the Magnificent Seven) really go to all the expense and effort of getting Doyle hooked on drugs, and then release him? Why not just kill him the moment he is kidnapped? And would the French authorities really refrain from charging Doyle with arson and attempted murder after he returns to the hotel in which he was held, and sets light to it? (And how did the fire brigade get to the fire so quickly, beating even Barthelemy, who was given prior notice?)
French Connection II isn’t a pleasant film to watch, and, while it suffers from a similar paucity of plot, it certainly isn’t a no-brain actioner for the multiplex set. Having said that, it’s undeniably a memorable experience that is well worth viewing.
(Reviewed 30th April 2002)