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Rare is the movie these days that can carve out its own mythos on the back of an existing one and make it even remotely entertaining effort. Rarer still is the movie that attempts to do same on the back of a revered or even highly memorable previous film, at least if you exclude the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And in The Connection, we get a movie that not only accomplishes this, but does so with ease, resulting in one of the better films in recent memory.
The film is directed by Cedric Jimenez, and he co-wrote it with writing partner Audrey Diwan. The premise of the film, whether deliberate or not when it was being written, was that it served as a flip side of sorts to William Friedkin's classic The French Connection, though while The Connection is ‘loosely inspired' by the real-life events in same, starting in Marseille in 1975, and ending around late 1981. Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin, The Wolf of Wall Street) is the magistrate charged with attempting to thwart The French Connection, headed up by Gaetan ‘Tany' Zampa (Gilles Lellouche, Tell No One). As Michel's tactics vary and his aspirations are bolder, Zampa always seems to remain one step ahead, even as there are those who want to take their shots at him and his crew.
Films that have focused on a similar period of time and topic like The French Connection and American Gangster have shown us that the war on drugs is costly from both the financial and human perspectives, but what particularly grabbed me about The Connection was how it cleverly showed the human damage transpiring on both sides of the fence. Michel is forced to witness his wife and children leaving him as he gets closer to apprehending Zampa, and this loss is something that he feels while crumpling into a heap at a pay phone hoping to speak to them. And the film makes a great transition to showing us how the war on drugs is hampering Zampa. He built up the empire we see at the beginning of the film, and as we see him absorb the body blows to his business, or of him losing his friends as a result of gang battles, the weariness he gradually feels is palpable, yet you get the sense that both men know there is no real way to extricate themselves or others from this war.
Within the leads, Dujardin and Lellouche both do a tremendous job in their roles. The former learns the ways to try and shut off Zampa's business however he can, when he learns eventually that the drug business has involvement beyond comprehension, his disenchantment is painful for the viewer. Lellouche portrays Zampa with a Vito Corleone like pragmatic sense, though he does not hesitate to use his own physical force when he needs to. I was aware of Dujardin's abilities before coming into The Connection, less so of Lellouche and I was mesmerized by his work.
I was impressed by how confident Jimenez was in the material and his approach to it. A large amount of The Connection is shot handheld that draws the viewer into the action, whether it is kinetic such as raiding a laboratory and exchanging gunfire, or if it is a quieter moment with Zampa interrogates a low-level worker who has short-changed him from owed money. How Jimenez tells the story is just as good as the story itself, quite surprising from the second-time director.
In The Connection, you get a film that takes the previously told ground uses it as a springboard to tell a story few outside of France are likely to be familiar with. The ultimate result is a crime film that mixes in enamor of its era, some understated moments of melancholy for both protagonist and antagonist, set against a breathtaking backdrop. It may use an American film as a starting point, but the film is uniquely French, a film that oddly enough is one that audiences outside of France will enjoy. You will not have to see The French Connection to appreciate how good a film The Connection is.The Blu-ray:
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and using the AVC codec for its high definition transfer, The Connection makes special mention of the fact that it is shot entirely in 35mm, and it looks gorgeous, whether it is the many breathtaking French exterior shots, or in Zampa's club with the neon lights. The supplements also make mention of Jimenez' decision to shoot using natural light as much as possible, and in a scene where Michel and Zampa meet on a Cliffside, the views are amazing and untouched. Image detail is ample and colors are replicated faithfully. The film makes an oddly compelling case to visit Marseille if you have not been, as the disc looks fantastic.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is just as amazing. Dialogue is consistent throughout the film, the music sounds great (speaking of the earlier mentioned club, when it starts blaring "Call Me" by Blondie, the bass pulsates through the room. The random assassinations and occasional firefights possess enough immersion, channel panning and directional effects are present and smartly used, and the overall result is a very nice listening experience.Extras:
While the lack of commentary may be a minor gripe, the making of on the film (51:08) is pretty extensive, with interviews with the crew and stars as they discuss the film and characters, and we see rehearsals of a scene shortly before it is ready to shoot. Things like hair and wardrobe are covered, and the shooting style and motivations are recalled. One of the moments in the piece covers a moment in the club with more than 400 people and it is interesting to see. It does not look at the real-life stuff much, but serves as a valuable component to the film. Seven deleted scenes (6:46) follow but do not contribute much, nor do trailers for this film and other Drafthouse Films releases. There is also a digital copy of the film and a 20-page booklet with thoughts on the film and characters from Jimenez, Dujardin and Lellouche.Final Thoughts:
Even having the mild hurdle of expectations for The Connection after hearing what the setup was, I was happy to see the film cleared that hurdle with room to spare, with a different and fascinating way to tell its story that is comfortable in its own skin, and performances by the stars that are superb. Technically, the disc looks and sounds amazing, and the making of piece is not shabby either. Definitely carve out the two hours to see this one.