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New Release Review - THE CONNECTION

Dramatisation of the battle to take down Marseille's notorious drug trafficking mob 'La French' during the '70s and '80s.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Cedric Jimenez

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Celine Sallette, Melanie Doutey, Benoit Magimel



"The Gallic setting adds a certain amount of novelty value to this sort of tale, but in narrative terms we're on all too familiar ground, with Jimenez happy to trade in the clichés of the gangster epic."



Every major port city boasts a history tainted by organised crime, and Marseille is no different. If you've seen William Friedkin's The French Connection or its overlooked John Frankenheimer helmed sequel, you'll have a passing familiarity with the milieu presented in Cedric Jimenez's Gallic crime epic, which details, quite loosely by all accounts, the war between the city authorities and the drug gangs who fought to control the strategically located port.
Back in the '70s, Marseille was ground zero for the international heroin trade. Such was the scale of criminal activity that the FBI had two offices dedicated to Europe - one for Marseille and one for the rest of the continent. The hero of Jimenez's movie is Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin), the newly assigned, in the mid-70s, magistrate to Marseilles. Determined to take down the drug gangs and restore the good standing of Marseille, Michel throws himself into his work, making dangerous enemies and jeopardising his family life in the process.
Michel's nemesis is Gaetan Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), head of a mob known as 'La French', an organisation which ironically consists mainly of Italian immigrants. With their shared widow's peak hairstyles, I doubt Jimenez could have found two actors more similar in appearance as Dujardin and Lellouche; so alike that I found myself confusing the two characters from time to time. 'They're two sides of a coin' seems to be the implication of this casting choice, but the pair have little in common outside of their physical appearance; Michel is as well-meaning as they come, while Zampa is simply a toerag.
The '70s period recreation is top notch, chiefly thanks to the timeless quality of French actors. While today's Hollywood stars look like they hail from a different planet to the likes of Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, France still favours movie stars who look like real people, more interested in the lines on an actor's face than the definition of his abs. Dujardin and Lellouche could convincingly be transplanted to any era in the last century or so.
The Gallic setting adds a certain amount of novelty value to this sort of tale, but in narrative terms we're on all too familiar ground. The Connection may be a French callback to the American crime drama, but it's executed in the manner of Hollywood, jettisoning the more studied, existential French style of crime filmmaking once practiced by the likes of Jean Pierre Melville. Jimenez is happy to trade in the tropes and clichés of the gangster epic, and at well over two hours long, fatigue sets in by the movie's awkwardly rendered conclusion. 




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