On paper The French Connection appears to be a run-of-the-mill crime thriller, with a protagonist, in Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman), who doesn’t play by the rules but who ‘gets the job done’’.
In reality, though the odd cliche is apparent intermittently, The French Connection is an intelligent, fast-paced movie with an ending that is as surprising as it is bleak.
Fernando Rey makes for a compelling antagonist and Roy Scheider gives a decent performance as Popeye’s slightly more sanguine partner ‘Cloudy’.
However Hackman’s performance as Popeye, complete with his iconic pork pie hat, is what really elevates The French Connection above its contemporaries. Irreverent, sardonic and with a chip on his shoulder the size of France, Popeye is an obvious inspiration for many a hackneyed movie detective in inferior movies, but Hackman’s performance subtly oscillates between brutality and vulnerability and makes Popeye one the more memorable characters on Hackman’s impressive CV.
Score for Christmasishness
The movie is definitely set at Christmas time, although it probably doesn’t need to be. There are indications of the season throughout the movie, but few are more striking than the first time we meet Popeye, when he is undercover as none other than Santa Claus himself. A foul-mouthed Father Christmas taking on a bad guy in the early moments of the movie certainly makes this a Christmas(ish) film.