In this, the age of reboots, The Connection boasts one of the more intriguing approaches to revisiting old material (obviously, being based on actual events helps) by looking at the events around The French Connection from the other side of the Atlantic. While it stands entirely on its own, it's the kind of hook that makes the film an easy sell to distributors and filmgoers. While leading man Jean Dujardin (who can convincingly play any Frenchman born before 1950) gives another stellar performance, the film's tired tropes leave it feeling like a grueling procedural rather than the captivating thriller it should be, and it's ties to William Friedkin's classic end up feeling like false expectations.
Set in Marsailles in 1975, the film centers on Pierre Michel (Dujardin) and his quest to take down gangster Gaëtan "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche) and stop the heroin flowing in from Turkey. The criminals seem to have all the power here, and Dujardin's impassioned campaign turns to sour desperation over time. As we have seen so many times before, Michel struggles to balance his life and career with his obsession, which becomes the focus of the film.
If The Connection took the time to develop any narrative momentum or characters of interest beyond Michel, it would be a much more enjoyable experience. It is a shame, because there are great moments scattered throughout the film, like where Michel's coworker attempts to explain the tangled web of the Connection and intones (in French) that "life is a fucking octopus." And a darkly comic moment when a gangster complains to his boss that he has no time for crime since his wife is in prison and he is stuck taking care of his children. But these moments are few and far between, as cops and gangsters alike disappear into a sea of neutral-colored clothing and impeccably coiffed hair and sideburns.
There is too much in this film that is too familiar, and it never amounts to anything exciting enough to work as a thriller, nor interesting enough to work as a slow burn character piece. Casting into a pool that contains the original French Connection, Zodiac, Traffic, Heat and numerous other films, The Connection barely registers a ripple.
The Connection opens today at the Ritz Five.