Spoiler Warning


Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The French Connection


What About It?

Popeye Doyle lives to do his job, delighting in intimidating suspects and willing to risk everything on a hunch if it keeps him on someone's trail. The fact that he serves the law is secondary. The "French Connection" case is not started based on any crime being committed, but on Popeye not liking the way a guy spends money, and his curiosity about it. When he spends the whole night tailing Sal Boca, he does so for his own enjoyment, as he is off duty at the time and Sal did nothing illegal at the night club.

Popeye is determined above all else to be the top man, which we see in everything he does. He thinks nothing of bursting into a bar full of men who despise him, fully expectant that his presence alone is enough to intimidate them into compliance. He doesn't mind using trickery, or brutal, even lethal force to get results. Arresting people isn't enough, he has to do it loudly, a fact we get from taking one look at him or hearing him talk for two minutes.

What's surprising about Popeye Doyle is that he's a cop to begin with. His concern for the law is minimal, simply giving him an excuse to prove that he's in charge. Certainly walking into a bar and forcing everyone up against the wall to be searched and harassed is not a tactic that respects due process.

The famous car/train chase illustrates his character perfectly. Driving through traffic congested New York City streets at 90 miles an hour, causing accidents and endangering countless civilians means nothing compared to the prospect of letting Nicoli get away. During that chase we see clearly that the innocent drivers are simply obstacles that make him angry. This is most graphic when he nearly hits a woman pushing her baby carriage. He shows no horror at the close call, only anger that he has to act to avoid her. The car is clearly just a graphic way to look at Doyle.

Once started, Doyle doesn't consider his actions, other than finding the most effective way to win. His obsession with the object of his chase allows him, in his own mind, to use any means necessary. When he finally catches Nicoli, seeing the man is clearly unarmed, and after commanding him to stop, he doesn't hesitate to shoot him in the back and kill him, perhaps because he's exhausted and won't risk him getting away again.

Even killing fellow law officer Mulderig doesn't cause Popeye a moment's hesitation. While he didn't intend to kill Mulderig, it certainly doesn't bother him that he did, and it isn't any reason to keep him from chasing Charnier, his only concern at that point. If he didn't sense Russo wanted some acknowledgement of the action, he likely wouldn't have stopped at all, anymore than Nicoli stopped, after killing the undercover cop in the beginning.

Popeye is very different than other movie cops. He's no Dirty Harry, willing to break the rules to get the bad guys who would otherwise go free. Good guy/ bad guy means nothing to him. Criminals are simply the guys on the other team. He's not the good cop pushed too far, as he works very hard to find a reason to act. He'll create one if one isn't presented. On the other side of the coin he isn't a standard "dirty"cop as money and drugs don't seem to have any pull on him. Popeye's off duty existence is simply hanging out at the bar getting drunk and picking up a girl now and then. He has no aspirations to live the high life. He's simply amoral, upholding the law to the extent that it allows him to do what he needs to do on a practical level. He lives for the chase, the rest of his life is lived around that.

Gene Hackman is a perfect choice for the character and certainly earned his Oscar for the role. While Hackman is a brilliant actor, he's not a pretty face, and we never get the sense that he's angling for an iconic close up shot. He portrays Popeye's crudity very well, giving us the man as a completely unpolished mess, who nonetheless shouldn't be underestimated, even in his ridiculous pork pie hat. He's a bully, a racist and a drunk, who happens to be a dangerous and effective cop. Aside from his personal dislikability, he's a formidable opponent, who will not be kept from his course.

Popeye is well illustrated by the people around him. Roy Scheider's Russo being essential to his existence as a cop. The two of them are one of the quintessential police partnerships in film. Russo has little in common with Popeye. He's cool and composed one, to Popeye's hotheadedness. We get the sense that Russo's stability helps keep Popeye from stepping too far over the line. He's also willing to go to Popeye's house, get him to clean himself up, and keep him pointed in the right direction. While they're very different, Russo isn't timid. He's willing to do what he has to to get things done, he simply doesn't have Popeye's obsessive drive or his gift with "hunches." They work very well as a team, without bickering or second guessing each other. We get the sense that they're good friends as well as partners,each knowing and trusting the other implicitly. While good cop/ bad cop is now a technique we expect to see from every cop, the version used by Russo and Doyle was different at the time. Between Russo's fact checking by nitpicking details and Popeye's absurd forceful accusations about picking toes in Poughkeepsie, it's easy to see how a suspect would give up information out of confusion or fear.

Fernando Rey's Charnier, is Popeye's opposite number in many ways. Charming and sophisticated, yet every bit as competent, even getting the better of Popeye via the subway of Popeye's own city. The contrast is well illustrated by Charnier having an elaborate meal in a high class restaurant while Popeye watches from the street, freezing, while eating a piece of pizza. The two of them may as well be from different worlds. Even though, he's a drug dealing criminal, Charnier presents in most ways as the more likeable one of the two. Where Popeye is obsessed with the chase, Charnier is practiced and careful about not getting caught. He's also very intelligent and resourceful making him a perfect opponent for Doyle. He's white collar to Popeye's blue collar, charming where Popeye is crude. Their shared trait is ruthlessness. The problem is that although Popeye is a cop and Charnier is the criminal, we see that the system works more for Charnier than for Popeye.

The supporting cast is terrific as well and in an interesting mark of authenticity, the cast includes the two officers the story was based on; Eddie Egan (inspired Popeye) as Simonson, and Sonny Grosso (inspired Russo) as Agent Klein. Friedkin gives the film a natural feeling showing us actual streets rather than "movie" streets. Against that backdrop, he paces it as a nonstop chase made of many foot and car chases, giving a frantic sense of very real stakes. Of course, the train chase is the most talked about (and justifiably so) part of the movie, and while it is a fantastic chase, it's simply the loudest part of Popeye's larger chase. We're given foot chases and car chases, low and high speed, undercover and blatant. From start to finish, we're watching Popeye on the hunt. This is not a film that contemplates, but one that shows character through action, and all of it in the service of showing us Popeyem who only really exists while in action. He's such a large character, that his presence makes anyone else automatically secondary. This is quickly noticed by Charnier, who points him out to Nicoli as their biggest problem, although there's an entire team keeping an eye on them.

Essentially the film is Popeye Doyle, the unstoppable force, pushing as far as he can against forces that are too much him. It's no accident that the film ends with Popeye firing into an empty room. Even if he had caught Charnier, the text at the end suggests that he would've walked away. This makes Popeye's efforts appear futile, his obsessiveness serving no purpose but to fuel itself, which casts his recklessness along the way in an entirely different light, removing any justification of serving the greater good. This also presents questions about the efforts of law enforcement in general when dealing with those whose resources put them outside their reach. This isn't an unusual implication for a movie to make these days, and that's one of the interesting points about the film. It's difficult to see its influence, as so many films have been influenced by it now. The police tactics, the Popeye/Russo partnership, the chases, the undercover work and interrogation, the obsessive cop, all have become part of the action movie language now.

Popeye has no redeeming journey. We try to like the man, because on the surface he's trying to put a drug dealer away, but as the movie continues we have less and less to defend him with until there's no defense at all. At most we can admire his ability, his tenacity, and his deductive skills, and be glad that at least he's not working from the other side.

 
 
 
What Happens? 

After an ominous sounding credits sequence, the film starts in Marseilles, France, where we find a man walking the streets attempting to inconspicuously keep an eye on another man, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey.) When he's done, however, he's surprised to open his apartment door and find a gunman, Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozuffi)  waiting inside to greet him. Nicoli shoots him in the face without saying a word and leaves the body lying in the doorway. He steps over it, then pauses, leans down, picks up the dead man's baguette, and tears off a piece for himself as he leaves.
We then pick up in Brooklyn, NY, where Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, is dressed as Santa Claus, chatting with kids on the street. He's also keeping eye on two black men inside the bar behind him. Doyle's partner, Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider) is attending a hot dog cart nearby, but he abandons it, and heads into the bar, making himself the only white guy in the place. He walks over to a man at a table and starts searching him. He pushes the man into an inside phone booth and blocks the door before looking for another man, Willie Craven (Alan Weeks,) who runs for the door. Russo chases him, and Doyle joins in. We learn the man has a knife. After attempting to stab the two cops, wounding Russo, he runs again. They finally catch him when he collapses and they start beating him up. They cuff him and escort him into an alley. They intimidate him to name his connection, using a good cop/ bad cop routine. Doyle suggests that he deals with "Joe the Barber." The man agrees but doesn't know Joe's last name, but gives his address. Russo asks what side of the street Joe lives on, which the man can't answer. Doyle asks, "Hey shithead, when's the last time you picked your feet?"
Suspect: What are you talking about?
Doyle: A man in Poughkeepsie wants to talk to you. Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?
Craven: Give me a break
Doyle: You've been in Poughkeepsie, haven't you? I want to hear it.
Craven: Yes, I've been.
Doyle: You sat on the edge of the bed, didn't you? took off your shoes, put your finger between your toes, and picked your feet, didn't you? Say it!
Craven: Yes!
Doyle: All right! You put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means? Goddammit! All winter long I got to listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now I'm gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie.

Back in France, we meet Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) discussing work on the docks which will allow for more cargo. Alain meets with his young wife and gives her a gift for a trip they're taking. She gives him a gift, a warm coat, since "It's cold in America."

We find Doyle at the police station turning in paperwork, before going home. He tries to convince Russo to get a drink with him at "The Chez," although Russo wants to go home. Doyle notices his injury and gives him a hard time about it.
Doyle : You dumb guinea.
Russo: How the hell was I supposed to know he had a knife.
Doyle : Never trust a nigger.
Russo: He could have been white.
Doyle : Never trust anyone!
Russo relents and they end up at the nightclub.While Russo has a drink, Doyle circulates keeping an eye on a certain table. He tells Russo, "I've got to make at least two junk connections at that table in the corner." Doyle persuades Russo to help him tail one of the men, Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his wife Angie (Arlene Farber.) They follow him all night and see him drop off a suitcase before switching cars and stopping at "Sal and Angie's" corner store to ope it for business. Through the window they see that Sal's girlfriend holding a blonde wig she'd been wearing, revealing that she's actually a brunette.

In France, Charnier meets with Nicoli at a pier. Nicoli tells him the job is done. Charnier remarks "Our friend is late." Nicoli tells him it's a mistake to involve the person. Charnier disagrees, saying "It's inspired. Wherever he goes, he travels freely. Besides, he needs the money." Nicoli insists he doesn't trust him, but Charnier tells him to be nice and he might end up on TV. The third man, Henri Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale) arrives and tells Charnier, he'll accept his proposition.

Doyle and Russo have gathered information on Sal Boca, finding he was suspected of an armed robbery of Tiffany's in broad daylight, but walked because the store wouldn't press charges. He's also suspected of being a hired killer. They find that "Sal and Angie's" makes $7,000.00 a year, which doesn't match his cars or spending habits. Russo starts frequenting Sal and Angie's, making small talk with Angie. They connect Sal with Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary) a lawyer who put up the money for a big drug shipment in the past. They stop at a black bar, Doyle yelling as he enters "Alright Popeye's here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and on the wall." The patrons drop their pills and drugs before getting to the wall as instructed. Doyle and Russo collect all the drugs while the patrons wait against the wall. Doyle mixes them up with a beer and dumps it out. He then takes turns intimidating the customers, until finding one of his contacts (Al Fann,) and pulls him into the restroom. He explains that no one has any heroin because there's none around. He hasn't heard of Sal or Angie Boca, but knows that there's a big shipment coming in in the next week or two. Popeye punches him in the face so not to give away his informant status.

At the police station, their boss, Simonson (Eddie Egan) gives Doyle and Russo a hard time about Boca, skeptical that he'll lead them to anything as they have little evidence. He reminds Doyle about one of his hunches that backfired. Russo tells Simonson the streets are like a "desert full of junkies." Simonson agrees to get them some wiretaps, on the idea that Boca will lead them to Weinstock. Simonson asks Doyle on the way out "You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?"

Simonson gets the warrants for the wiretaps, and tells Russo that federal agents Bill Muldering (Bill Hickman) and Bill Klein (Sonny Grosso) will be working with them to make the buys and need to be informed about all progress. Simonson asks Muldering if he knows Doyle. Muldering responds "Yeah, I know Popeye. His brilliant hunches cost the life of a good cop." Russo tells him he might as well stay home with that attitude. Muldering insists that it's his opinion and Russo tells him "Shove it up your ass." Simonson reasons with Mulderig and asks that he give them a chance and come to him if he has any problems. Mulderig agrees.

We then find Henri Devereaux just arriving in NY, taking questions from reporters, who know him as the "sexiest man in the world." Charnier's car is released from a freighter and claimed by Devereaux. We see that Chanier and Nicoli are also in NY.

Russo comes by Doyle's place and finds him with handcuffs on his ankles from a girl he'd picked up. Russo informs Doyle that they have the warrants as well as the arrangement with Mulderig and  Klein.

We find Chanier and Nicoli walking through the grounds of an auto auction, which sells off everything not sold at NY's five auto junkyards. Nicoli mentions that the place is Charnier's main source of scrap metal.  Nicoli points out Sal Boca's brother, Lou (Benny Marino) as their buyer.

Russo and Doyle listen to Boca's conversations, laughing at the conversations between Sal and Angie. They pick up Sal agreeing to meet a French sounding person on Wednesday. Mulderig rides along with Doyle and Russo as they follow Sal to the meet, giving Doyle a hard time about the case, calling it "small potatoes." They lose Sal in traffic and call in to Klein, parked in another location. Klein picks up the car and gives them the location. Sal leaves the car and goes on foot. Doyle and his crew tail him on foot, although he's clearly suspicious. Russo bumps into Chanier, Sal and Nicoli. Doyle tells Russo to stay with Sal and offers to follow Chanier (and Nicoli) Chanier stops to have dinner, while Doyle and Russo wait on the street trying to look inconspicuous, although it's very cold out. Chanier returns to the hotel and Doyle asks the hotel clerk for his info.  Mulderig and Russo come pick up Doyle when it gets late. Doyle reveals that he knows Chanier made him, since he took the elevator to the wrong floor. They tell Doyle that Klein is watching Nicoli, and Sal went to bed. Doyle and Muldering continue their mutual antagonism.

We see Sal with Weinstock, the next day getting some heroin tested. His tester tells him it's "89% pure junk, best I've ever seen."  Weinstock reveals there are sixty kilos of it, which Sal insists will yield them 32 million dollars once it's cut.  Sal tries to push Weinstock into agreeing to a deal to pay half a million for the heroin. Weinstock insists that Sal should treat it as a test or his "first major league game." Sal insists that he's been careful and Weinstock says "this is why your phone lines are tapped and feds are crawling on you like fleas." Sal tells Weinstock that Chanier isn't going to wait around and could go elsewhere, but Weinstock doesn't seem concerned and starts questioning Sal's ability.

Doyle sees Charnier leave his hotel while Mulderig, who should be watching him, is on the phone. Doyle follows Charnier on foot again, losing him briefly, and picking him up again. Charnier is clearly aware he's being followed, and manages to use the subway to lose Doyle by getting on and off and on the subway that's just about to leave as Doyle follows, not realizing Charnier got back on until the doors lock. Charnier waves goodbye, smiling at Doyle as the subway car takes off.

Sal goes to the airport, tailed by Klein. Sal buys a round trip ticket to Washington DC, which Klein does as well. We see Sal meeting Charnier in DC, where Sal explains that all is going well, but he'll need a few days to "make sure there's no heat." Charnier explains that's why they're in DC and complains he hasn't had five minutes in NY without cops following him. Charnier tells Sal it's his problem. We see Klein watching the two of them from a distance. Charnier gets on a plane back to NY and we see he's with Nicoli. Charnier explains that they have to stick to their timetable, but he isn't sure about Sal, saying he "sees policemen in his soup." Nicoli doesn't dismiss the idea, saying "He's not wrong." Charnier says "The one who followed me on the subway, he's our biggest problem." Nicoli offers to "handle him." Charnier shakes his head saying "There'll be others." Nicoli says "So what? By Friday we'll be gone."

In NY, we see Doyle, Russo, Muldering and Simonson all checking out a car accident. Doyle is asking Simonson for more time, but Simonson insists that if there was a deal, it already happened. Doyle insists that it hasn't happened. Muldering and Doyle get into it again and Simonson doesn't bend, telling Doyle he's off the assignment. Walking down the street Doyle is surprised to find a sniper taking shots at him from a rooftop. Doyle gets into the building and takes the stairs to the roof, where he finds the rifle, but Nicoli is on the street running away. Doyle chases him to an elevated train station, where Nicoli gets on the train before Doyle can. Doyle finds out the train's next stop and runs to the street, confiscating a car to try and beat the train there. Nicoli tries to evade a conductor on the train and ends up shooting him when he gets too close. Nicoli reaches the train's driver and puts a gun to his head demanding he doesn't stop at the next station. Doyle drives as fast as he can to keep up with the train, driving on the wrong side of the road and straight through intersection, even getting hit a few times. On the train a group has formed to help the driver, but Nicoli holds the gun on them, shooting one of them when they won't back off. The driver has a heart attack and fails to prevent the speeding train from colliding with a train that's stopped on the track.The collision knocks the gun from Nicoli's hand. He has to farce his way out of the train. Doyle has noticed the trains stopped and spots Nicoli getting out. He pulls his gun on Nicoli and tells him to "Hold it!" Doyle shoots him when he tries to walk away.

We then find Sal and Angie leaving their store. We see Russo getting out of Doyle's car to follow Sal into a parking garage. He bumps right into Sal, who's waiting around a corner. Russo acts like he can't find his ticket and sees the attendant bring Sal the Lincoln that came from France for Devereaux. Doyle and Russo chase the Lincoln until Sal parks it and Angie picks him up in her car. Doyle and Russo park across the street, just watching the Lincoln. Thieves show up and attempt to strip the car. The thieves are arrested and the car is towed to the department as evidence. They take the car apart and find no drugs, but Doyle insists they have to be there. Devereaux shows up at the station angrily demanding his car back. Russo finds the listed weight of the vehicle and notices there's a 120 pound difference. Doyle realizes the rocker panels haven't been searched, and pulls them off, revealing the drugs. They replace the drugs and rocker panels and give the car to Devereaux.
Devereaux meets up with Charnier, reluctant about their arrangement. Chanier reminds him that he is now an accomplice. Chanier drives Devereaux to an empty factory, to meet Weinstock, Sal and Lou Boca. The drugs are removed and tested. They stash the payment in the rocker panels of a junk car that Lou Boca bought at auction. Sal drives Chanier away, only to find that Doyle has set up a road block. He turns around and heads to the empty factory with the police chasing them. Chanier and Sal get out of the car, splitting up on foot. Boca's crew runs into the factory and they have a shootout with the cops parked outside. Sal jumps out a window with a gun attempting to run for it, but Russo shoots him dead. Doyle and Russo then search the building for Chanier. Hearing some noise in one of the rooms, Doyle fires several shots. He and Russo then discover that it was Mulderig, who is now dead. "You shot Mulderig." Russo says. Doyle replies, "That son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm going to get him." Doyle continues searching. As he enters one of the rooms, we hear a gunshot. We then see a series of stills starting with Weinstock, and text tells us that

Weinstock was indicted by a grand jury...Case dismissed for "Lack of proper evidence."
Angie Boca, guilty of a misdemeanor. followed by Sentence suspended
Lou Boca, guilty of conspiracy and possession of narcotics...Sentence reduced.
Henri Devereaux, guilty of conspiracy....served four years in a federal Penitentiary
Alain Charnier was never caught. He is believed to be living in France.
Detectives Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics bureau and reassigned.


What About It?

Popeye Doyle lives to do his job, delighting in intimidating suspects and willing to risk everything on a hunch if it keeps him on someone's trail. The fact that he serves the law is secondary. The "French Connection" case is not started based on any crime being committed, but on Popeye not liking the way a guy spends money, and his curiosity about it. When he spends the whole night tailing Sal Boca, he does so for his own enjoyment, as he is off duty at the time and Sal did nothing illegal at the night club.

Popeye is determined above all else to be the top man, which we see in everything he does. He thinks nothing of bursting into a bar full of men who despise him, fully expectant that his presence alone is enough to intimidate them into compliance. He doesn't mind using trickery, or brutal, even lethal force to get results. Arresting people isn't enough, he has to do it loudly, a fact we get from taking one look at him or hearing him talk for two minutes.

What's surprising about Popeye Doyle is that he's a cop to begin with. His concern for the law is minimal, simply giving him an excuse to prove that he's in charge. Certainly walking into a bar and forcing everyone up against the wall to be searched and harassed is not a tactic that respects due process.

The famous car/train chase illustrates his character perfectly. Driving through traffic congested New York City streets at 90 miles an hour, causing accidents and endangering countless civilians means nothing compared to the prospect of letting Nicoli get away. During that chase we see clearly that the innocent drivers are simply obstacles that make him angry. This is most graphic when he nearly hits a woman pushing her baby carriage. He shows no horror at the close call, only anger that he has to act to avoid her. The car is clearly just a graphic way to look at Doyle.

Once started, Doyle doesn't consider his actions, other than finding the most effective way to win. His obsession with the object of his chase allows him, in his own mind, to use any means necessary. When he finally catches Nicoli, seeing the man is clearly unarmed, and after commanding him to stop, he doesn't hesitate to shoot him in the back and kill him, perhaps because he's exhausted and won't risk him getting away again.

Even killing fellow law officer Mulderig doesn't cause Popeye a moment's hesitation. While he didn't intend to kill Mulderig, it certainly doesn't bother him that he did, and it isn't any reason to keep him from chasing Charnier, his only concern at that point. If he didn't sense Russo wanted some acknowledgement of the action, he likely wouldn't have stopped at all, anymore than Nicoli stopped, after killing the undercover cop in the beginning.

Popeye is very different than other movie cops. He's no Dirty Harry, willing to break the rules to get the bad guys who would otherwise go free. Good guy/ bad guy means nothing to him. Criminals are simply the guys on the other team. He's not the good cop pushed too far, as he works very hard to find a reason to act. He'll create one if one isn't presented. On the other side of the coin he isn't a standard "dirty"cop as money and drugs don't seem to have any pull on him. Popeye's off duty existence is simply hanging out at the bar getting drunk and picking up a girl now and then. He has no aspirations to live the high life. He's simply amoral, upholding the law to the extent that it allows him to do what he needs to do on a practical level. He lives for the chase, the rest of his life is lived around that.

Gene Hackman is a perfect choice for the character and certainly earned his Oscar for the role. While Hackman is a brilliant actor, he's not a pretty face, and we never get the sense that he's angling for an iconic close up shot. He portrays Popeye's crudity very well, giving us the man as a completely unpolished mess, who nonetheless shouldn't be underestimated, even in his ridiculous pork pie hat. He's a bully, a racist and a drunk, who happens to be a dangerous and effective cop. Aside from his personal dislikability, he's a formidable opponent, who will not be kept from his course.

Popeye is well illustrated by the people around him. Roy Scheider's Russo being essential to his existence as a cop. The two of them are one of the quintessential police partnerships in film. Russo has little in common with Popeye. He's cool and composed one, to Popeye's hotheadedness. We get the sense that Russo's stability helps keep Popeye from stepping too far over the line. He's also willing to go to Popeye's house, get him to clean himself up, and keep him pointed in the right direction. While they're very different, Russo isn't timid. He's willing to do what he has to to get things done, he simply doesn't have Popeye's obsessive drive or his gift with "hunches." They work very well as a team, without bickering or second guessing each other. We get the sense that they're good friends as well as partners,each knowing and trusting the other implicitly. While good cop/ bad cop is now a technique we expect to see from every cop, the version used by Russo and Doyle was different at the time. Between Russo's fact checking by nitpicking details and Popeye's absurd forceful accusations about picking toes in Poughkeepsie, it's easy to see how a suspect would give up information out of confusion or fear.

Fernando Rey's Charnier, is Popeye's opposite number in many ways. Charming and sophisticated, yet every bit as competent, even getting the better of Popeye via the subway of Popeye's own city. The contrast is well illustrated by Charnier having an elaborate meal in a high class restaurant while Popeye watches from the street, freezing, while eating a piece of pizza. The two of them may as well be from different worlds. Even though, he's a drug dealing criminal,  Charnier presents in most ways as the more likeable one of the two. Where Popeye is obsessed with the chase, Charnier is practiced and careful about not getting caught. He's also very intelligent and resourceful making him a perfect opponent for Doyle. He's white collar to Popeye's blue collar, charming where Popeye is crude. Their shared trait is ruthlessness. The problem is that although Popeye is a cop and Charnier is the criminal, we see that the system works more for Charnier than for Popeye.

The supporting cast is terrific as well and in an interesting mark of authenticity, the cast includes the two officers the story was based on; Eddie Egan (inspired Popeye) as Simonson, and Sonny Grosso (inspired Russo) as Agent Klein. Friedkin gives the film a natural feeling showing us actual streets rather than "movie" streets. Against that backdrop, he paces it as a nonstop chase made of many foot and car chases, giving a frantic sense of very real stakes. Of course, the train chase is the most talked about (and justifiably so) part of the movie, and while it is a fantastic chase, it's simply the loudest part of Popeye's larger chase. We're given foot chases and car chases, low and high speed, undercover and blatant. From start to finish, we're watching Popeye on the hunt. This is not a film that contemplates, but one that shows character through action, and all of it in the service of showing us Popeyem who only really exists while in action. He's such a large character, that his presence makes anyone else automatically secondary. This is quickly noticed by Charnier, who points him out to Nicoli as their biggest problem, although there's an entire team keeping an eye on them.

Essentially the film is Popeye Doyle, the unstoppable force, pushing as far as he can against forces that are too much him. It's no accident that the film ends with Popeye firing into an empty room. Even if he had caught Charnier, the text at the end suggests that he would've walked away. This makes Popeye's efforts appear futile, his obsessiveness serving no purpose but to fuel itself, which casts his recklessness along the way in an entirely different light, removing any justification of serving the greater good. This also presents questions about the efforts of law enforcement in general when dealing with those whose resources put them outside their reach. This isn't an unusual implication for a movie to make these days, and that's one of the interesting points about the film. It's difficult to see its influence, as so many films have been influenced by it now. The police tactics, the Popeye/Russo partnership, the chases, the undercover work and interrogation, the obsessive cop, all have become part of the action movie language now.

Popeye has no redeeming journey. We try to like the man, because on the surface he's trying to put a drug dealer away, but as the movie continues we have less and less to defend him with until there's no defense at all. At most we can admire his ability, his tenacity, and his deductive skills, and be glad that at least he's not working from the other side.









8 comments:

Abhisek said...

Love the way you write in such detail explaining every bit of it.

The Invisible Art

Brent Allard said...

Thanks Abhisek! So glad you enjoyed it.

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J.D. said...

Another fantastic review. You really nailed why Popeye is such a fascinating protagonist. He's so amoral but we find him compelling to watch for the reasons you stated so eloquently. Well done!

Brent Allard said...

Thanks J.D.! He's one of a kind that's for sure. And yes, he's riveting to watch. Friedkin clearly had a soft spot for this kind of driven character.

Melissa Bradley said...

Terrific write up as always. I love the French Connection and it certainly is one of my favorite cop films. Scheider and Hackman had incredible chemistry.

Friedkin is a director that does not get a lot of kudos and yet, he directed this film and the best horror film of all time, IMO, The Exorcist.

Brent Allard said...

Thanks Melissa! He does get overlooked alot, but I'll say if all he ever did was The Exorcist, The French Connection, and To Live and Die in LA, that's a body of work anyone should be envious of.

The Guy on the Couch said...

I'm wondering if you or one of your readers can explain for me what Sal was doing driving the Lincoln, and why he left it parked on the street. The deal hadn't been concluded yet, and yet there is Sal, already in possession of the car full of drugs. Why would Alain let him take the goods when no money had changed hands yet. And then why does Sal abandon the car?