There’s a lot of fandom on display in The Connection. For genre. For period. For style. In fact, Cédric Jimenez’s latest thriller is so in love with the period it depicts that you can’t help thinking about the works of other famous pulp directors. This movie has the gauche colors of De Palma, the moody consternation of Mann, the flash and swerve of a Tony Scott film, and, of course, the 1970s gangland scope and attitude of an early Scorsese piece. And that all works against it. Why not just watch one of those other, more accomplished directors’ flicks right now?
The Connection is like watching 135 minutes of homage trailers. It’s like an extended cut of Spike Jonze’s music video for “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. From the police academy of meaningless grit and handheld camerawork (not to mention tough-talking, laughably macho writing) comes a “loose” adaptation of real events surrounding the heroin connection coming out of Marseille in the 1970s. Hot damn, there’s a historically specific Friedkin/French Connection, uh, connection, as well.
There’s a drug war going on. A fresh-faced police magistrate named Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin at his most serious and actorly) aims to crack down on the drug trade in France. He’s a straight arrow, a family man, incorruptible, and cooler than cool. As he takes on the crime leagues and slick-haired, gold-chained criminals, Pierre feels the heat at every turn, but he sticks to his guns … like every other cop in this kind of movie. Why can’t one cop admit that they’re scared to death by the thought of being killed? People don’t have to be this smooth.
So what distinguishes The Connection in a wasteland of criminal masterpieces? For one thing, it’s breathlessly paced, which is at once a benefit and a detriment. Every scene comes at you like a bullet: a crackdown montage here, a shootout there, some random acts of violence here, a concerned recuperative sex scene there. While the pace can be emotionally and kinetically dulling after a point (how many genre beats can one film run through?), you have to hand it to Jimenez for committing. The Connection’s super clichéd and high on itself, but it clearly gets off on what it’s telling and hasn’t a shred of irony.
But perhaps that’s The Connection’s most fatal move: too much of the same thing. It’s done with such intensity and panache that it’s almost laughable after an hour. The Connection becomes a very literal game: Connect this film to other crime films. Will Michel have a so-so car chase, a nauseating foot chase, or a cool motorcycle chase next? It’s not hard since one of each will happen eventually.
There’s a skit that came to mind while watching this film from Les Inconnus, a trio of comics that were on TV in the ‘90s. One of their skits was a foul-mouthed spoof on Al Pacino and Robert De Niro films. It’s just two guys, playing De Niro and Pacino, screaming “FUCK YOU” to each other at the top of their lungs for two minutes. When Dujardin screams and cries, at length, into a telephone because he just wants a moment with his wife, The Connection no longer feels like homage, but unintentional parody.