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Gene Hackman
Fernando Rey
Roy Scheider
Tony Lo Bianco
Marcel Bozzuffi
Frederic de Pasquale
Bill Hickman
Ann Rebbot
Harold Gary

William Friedkin




Time: 104 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Crime/Action/Thriller

Won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Hackman), Director, Film Editing, Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Sound and Cinematography.

This is one of those classic films I've been trying to see for a long time. With it's new Special Edition release onto DVD, I finally got the chance. I have to admit, it's not exactly what I expected. Directed by William Friedkin, this was one of the first commercially successful films of the American "New Wave" – a group of gritty, documentary-like flicks that exposed the underbelly of our society. This is New York like you rarely see it. According to this film, it's not the upscale tourist mecca one has come to know and love. Based on the true story, this is the tale of how two cops made the biggest drug bust in American history. What's most depressing about the enterprise, is that almost everyone involved got away with it. It's amazing what a good lawyer can do. Regardless of the final outcome, the film centers on the exploits of Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo. They are great cops, if somewhat dubious human beings. They work the narcotics beat and have the best records for arrests, however they get no respect from their captain or fellow lawmen. Most of their bookings are for penny-ante crimes.

Popeye is tired of the beat and is looking to make a major bust. One night, at one of his favorite nightclubs, he notices a young man at a table running through cash like it's water. On a hunch, he convinces Cloudy to join him in a stakeout of the guy, whose name turns out to be Sal Boca (Lo Bianco). It quickly becomes clear that Sal's little deli is more than just a great place to stop for lunch, but they can't quite figure out what's going on behind the curtain. Their boss thinks they're wasting their time and the city's money, but he approves the surveillance and wire taps. When a mysterious Frenchman appears on the scene, they know something big is about to go down. However, the Frenchman (Rey) proves too slippery for Popeye, so they are still in the dark about the details of the drop. Much to Sal's chagrin his backers are being more cautious than the Frenchman can allow time for. Plus, with the police watching them, it's going to be doubly hard to make the exchange.

"All right, Popeye's here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!"

They try to alleviate the police presence by sending a sniper after Popeye, but he alludes them and even manages after a fierce chase to take his would be assassin out. They catch a lucky break, but almost let it slip through their fingers. After hours of frustration, a minor detail strikes a major discrepancy and unlocks the key to the French connection. Now all they have to do is catch the deal in the making and bring the criminals to justice. Easier said than done. The crux of the film is the perseverance of Doyle's character and his instincts when it comes to police work. This was the first film to get deep inside the minutiae and dangers of being a cop. Hackman is great as Doyle, though everyone in the DVD documentary claims they didn't think he could pull the part off. He's one of the most charming, dysfunctional bastards to ever grace the screen. When he knows he's right, you better get out of his way. This is Hackman's first major screen role and he nails it. You can't take your eyes off him. All I can say is, thank God he's one of the good guys. The only other character to really stand out is Fernando Rey, who was not Friedkin's choice for the role of the Frenchman. Despite being "miscast," he does a great job. Giving the role of international drug smuggler a bit of class and intelligence often lacking in today's drug lords. Scheider is the perfect foil for Hackman's craziness. It's the quieter role, but he plays it with enormous presence, dignity and humor.

The plot of the film isn't at all complicated. We know something's going on and what that is from the beginning. It's figuring out the mechanics of the operation, alongside Popeye and Cloudy, that keeps it interesting. You know their prey is dirty and you want nothing more than for them to be apprehended. Though the film has some great action sequences, it's more of a police drama than a straight action pic. About the sacrifices cops go through on a daily basis to stop crime on our streets. What raises it above the usual fare are two "chase scenes." One, a cat and mouse foot race between Popeye and the Frenchman that ends with Doyle being outsmarted in a subway station. An exciting mental chess match of will and intelligence. The other, is the scene where Popeye races an elevated train with a car through the streets of New York into oncoming traffic. It's absolutely the craziest and most exciting chase sequence I have ever seen. It's amazing no one got killed during the filming. This is the film's piece de resistance and it's worth every penny. It crystallizes all of Popeye's anger and frustration and his determination to crack this case no matter what the cost.

The main reason I didn't give this film 4 stars is that it just didn't grab me emotionally as much as it did intellectually and visually. I have to make a connection with the characters and I just didn't with Popeye and Cloudy. I was interested sure, but that's just not enough. I can understand why it won the Academy Award for Best Picture, considering the competition, but it's not a film I feel compelled to sit through again and for me that's a must for a 4 star flick. Despite the down and dirty look, this is a first-rate picture with stunning cinematography, great acting, impressive editing and a musical score you won't soon forget. How Friedkin pulled it off I'll never know. A real American cinema treasure. One you should see if you're at all a fan of the movies.

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