Blu-ray Review: THE FRENCH CONNECTION

MGM/Fox Home Entertainment
Release date: February 24, 2009
MSRP: $34.98

Director: William Friedkin

Stars: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey,

Once upon a time, there was a film called 48 Hours. It was one of my favorite films. It kicked ass. Years went on and 48 Hours still held a fairly high place until one fateful night. On that night, Randy, Jill and I watched The French Connection. To my shock and dismay, 48 Hours cribbed an entire scene from TFC!

The scene I am referring to is one in which Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) rousts a bar in search of info. In 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy did the rousting.

On that fateful night, 48 Hours went down a notch in my book, and The French Connection entered my list of really great films.

The French Connection is a wonderful blend of story and style. The tale is solid, but it is the gritty style of the film that made it a classic. Folks today might not get as much out of it, but it was different from what was being done at the time. More than once, the cinematography has been likened to that of a documentary.

Doyle and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are a couple of narcs whose lives are dominated by their job. Doyle happens upon a high profile restaurant owner with an attitude that bothers him. This starts an investigation that unearths a major drug deal being organized by a Frenchman named Charnier (Fernando Rey).

As I said, the gritty look and feel of TFC is big part of what makes it so damn good. While most cop films of the time were full of cool, badass cops, Doyle and Russo are far from perfect. They are scruffy and even offensive at times. Their target is deals drugs and has no problems ordering the death of those that stand in his way, but we also see he is a loving family man.

As scruffy as the actors are, the NY of The French Connection is not one toursts would rush to see: rusting cars, abandoned buildings, derelicts…the film is not just gritty in it’s look, but content as well.

Video:
Director William Friedkin decided to retool the look of the film. This decision has resulted in a ton of controversy. According to a USA Today article, cinematographer Owen Roizman was not consulted and is quite unhappy with the new look.

Whether you think this new version is good or not, the original should have been included. It is the version that got the success and it what folks are looking for.
If both versions were included here, I would heartily recommend it. But I have a suspicion that a more complete edition will be released somewhere down the line.
Personally, I would not have a problem IF the original was also included here. The original look and feel was a big part of what made the film great as well as being part of why folks might want to purchase this. By excluding it, we are essentially buying a whole new film, without necessarily knowing it.

The new look takes some getting used to. The colors are soft, over-stylized and sometimes bleed, thus giving the film a sort of unreal vibe…not a god thing when much of the film’s greatness comes from it’s gritty realism. So instead of a rough documentary feel, It reminds me of an early MTV video.

Garish neon colors aide, the film looks great. The picture looks very sharp and quite vivid. I can’t believe this is a film that is almost thirty years old. I would imagine some restoration took place, but there is very little signs of it. Digital noise is almost non-existant.

The French Connection is presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 ratio.

Audio:
The film was originally in mono, so a 1.0 track is here as well as 5.1 DTS-HD and 3.0 Dolby surround.

There are 5.1 Dolby digital tracks in French and Spanish, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese.

If the original version was included, I would declare this an essential part of any film library. Unfortunately, without it I can only give a lukewarm recommendation. The print looks great, but I don’t want my Popeye Doyle to look like something out of an 80s Duran Duran video.

Order The French Connection BD from Amazon.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.