Director William Friedkin was at the helm of this superb 1971 police thriller, which also offers two outstanding lead performances from Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider. The film won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Film Editing, and Best Writing. The picture stars Hackman and Schneider as "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman), and his partner, Russo (Roy Scheider), two tough New York City police detectives who believe that they've stumbled onto a potentionally massive drug-smuggling operation that's bringing in product from France.
When it's believed that Doyle could get in the way of the drug smuggler's operations, they plan to take him out. Unsuccessful, he chases down his attacker in one of the most exciting chases in memory. The film really works wonderfully at developing its characters and plot; the audience is engaged because not only do the two leads fully inhabit their characters, but because Friedkin does such a marvelous job at creating atmosphere and a gritty realism. The film's documentary-like camera style, done by cinematographer Owen Roeizman, furthers this "you-are-there" feeling that really adds to the film's tension.
What's even more impressive is that the film was able to construct some fairly major action/chase sequences on location for a fairly small 1.8 million dollar budget. Yes, the film's action sequences do sort of pale in comparison to some more recent action films that have major budgets to work with, but the sheer force and intensity of these moments, combined with the exceptional cinematography, really do still thrill after 30 years. A few little things here and there do seem dated, but that's really to be expected, considering the age of the picture. The fierce performances still really are the picture's main strength, helped by Friedkin's great direction and the picture's strong pace.
VIDEO: "French Connection" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC.) The transfer was supervised by Friedkin himself, who discusses his thoughts on trying to craft a different "look" for the film in a documentary on the second disc and shares his thoughts on the overall presentation in an introduction on the first disc. As for the transfer itself, I thought it looked quite good: sharpness and detail aren't outstanding, but the film looked consistently crisper and clearer than it did on the prior DVD Special Edition.
Some moderate grain was seen throughout many scenes, but this is certainly an intentional element of the gritty film's cinematography. No edge enhancement is seen, nor are any instances of pixelation. While there is the occasional, minor speck or mark seen on the print, the amount of wear-and-tear was quite reasonable and minor, considering the age of the film.
The film's desaturated color palette is an intentional element of this new transfer; while the film was certainly never a bright and colorful picture by any means, but colors are further cooled off on this new edition (which, again, is intentional - Friedkin notes that this is the way that the colors were intended to look.)
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. Surrounds occasionally come in nicely for ambience or music, but don't play a major role in the film's new sound presentation, as the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Sound effects and score sounded somewhat crisper and cleaner on this DTS-HD presentation. For a film from this era, "French Connection"'s audio is more than satisfactory. Also included is an isolated score track.
EXTRAS: Commentaries: Fox has included two commentary tracks for this edition: the first includes director William Friedkin's discussion of the picture, while the other track includes half a commentary from actor Gene Hackman and the other half by actor Roy Schneider. Friedkin has previously been criticized for his participation on commentary tracks for some of his other, previous pictures for simply spending too much of the tracks discussing what's going on on-screen. That's thankfully not apparent here, as much. There are still some moments where Friedkin narrates the on-screen action, but I was pleased to hear him provide so much information about technical and production issues. He discusses the look of the picture, working with the performers and other stories about filming. There are a few pauses here and there, but the director really carries the majority of the track very nicely.
The other commentary with the two actors is not screen-specific; the two actors were interviewed and their answers play out; they don't fill up the track, but it's interesting to hear both men speak about their experiences making the film. Both are able to recall a good deal of information about what went on during filming and have quite a bit to say. Actually, it's unfortunate that the two couldn't be convinced to join one another for a full-length commentary where the two were actually watching the film as it played out; maybe they would have been able to recall even more and shared some memories of filming. Still, I do appreciate this second track's inclusion and found it enjoyable.
Documentaries: Two nearly one-hour doocumentaries lead off the second disc included in this set. The first, "Poughkeepsie Shuffle", is a terrific documentary that was produced by the BBC. The other, "Making The Connection" is an additional American documentary that is almost equally informative and enjoyable. Both documentaries do reveal a good deal about the real life detectives whose story inspired "Connection" (one of which, Sonny Grosso, hosts the "Making" documentary) and discuss production details, as well as stories about filming. Plenty of interviews with the cast and crew are also offered. I really didn't think the documentaries went over the completely same elements - although there were some little overlaping bits, the two complimented one another nicely. There's definitely nothing "promotional" about either of these; they go directly for the information, providing interviews and other material. There's also some definite moments of humor as Friedkin is especially vocal in his opinions about all things "French Connection".
Deleted Scenes: Able to viewed on their own or as part of a "documentary" where a rather animated director William Friedkin introduces them, these scenes definitely look very rough. Although most of them really don't seem entirely necessary, it's nice to have them here, as they do include some interesting moments. From the looks of them, they seem to have been saved just in the nick of time, as they show some rather heavy wear - the director discusses other deleted scenes that have been lost, which probably were either too worn at this point to be included or destroyed. Friedkin's introductions to these scenes are very informative and well worth viewing for those who are looking to watch the deleted scenes.
Several new pieces (in HD) are included on this Blu-Ray edition, starting with a brief introduction from director William Friedkin and a trivia track for the film. On the second disc, we get a fascinating documentary that goes through the steps that were used to color time the film for this new transfer. "Anatomy of a Chase" has Friedkin (and one of the film's producers, as well as a detective who was an advisor on the film) walking through the streets of NYC, discussing the film's production and some of the more noteworthy locations. This is an absolutely fantastic documentary, as Friedkin appears to be having a good time revisiting the locations and the relaxed atmosphere is quite entertaining - not to mention, there's also a good deal of facts on the film offered.
"Hackman on Doyle" is a 10-minute interview with Hackman, who recalls many of the stories from the making of the film and chats about the role. This is another extra, as Hackman provides - in not a particularly lengthy interview - some very enjoyable insights about the film and the legacy of the picture. " Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection" sees detective Sonny Grasso and director William Friedkin talking about the film and the real-life case that Grasso and his late partner Eddie Egan worked on. "Scene of the Crime" sees Friedkin again in NYC, talking to a former detective who worked with Friedkin in order for the director to be able to film on the Brooklyn Bridge. Finally, "Cop Jazz" looks at the score by Don Ellis and "Rogue Cop" looks at the film's connection to the noir genre.
Final Thoughts:Still a riveting picture after all these years, "French Connection" is really lead by an outstanding performance from Gene Hackman. This Blu-Ray edition is highly recommended, offering a new transfer, improved audio and a series of very good new extras. Highly recommended.
The Film A