Although big films like “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Pitch Perfect 2” are sure to catch this week’s box office dollars along with accompanying press, don’t miss the chance to see the exciting French action flick, “The Connection,” opening Friday, May 15 in Los Angeles at the Landmark Theatre. The European flipside to the 1971 film classic “The French Connection” (directed by William Friedkin), “The Connection” examines the war on heroin from its trafficking starting point in Marseille. Starring Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche, this 1970’s crime drama based on actual events is a captivating depiction of justice via judicial magistrates vs. the usual cop/detective capers.
Co-writer/director Cedric Jimenez grew up in the sunny seaside town of Marseille—his father owned a restaurant and drug kingpin Gaetan Zampa’s brother owned a neighboring bar. So this universe was a known quantity growing up, Jimenez explains in his film’s production notes. Along with the story of Judge Pierre Michel who crusaded to take down criminal Zampa, Jimenez “also wanted to tell the story of Marseille.”
Unlike the gritty streets of New York where the heroin was shipped, the seaside resort of Marseille is bright and full of tourists, casinos, discos, oh and heroin. During the 1970’s, it was the heroin capital of the world. This juxtaposition between beauty and violence is demonstrated early on in the film as two men on a motorcycle pull alongside a grey Mercedes and pump a magazine of bullets into the driver.
With archival news footage, including clips of U.S. President Nixon, we are quickly schooled in the 1970’s heroin drug trade and ongoing violence in the city. It’s known that businessman and drug kingpin Gaetan Zampa (Lellouche) is the source, but how to take him down?
Enter Judge Michel (Dujardin), who works as a Juvenile Judge and sees firsthand the effects of drugs on youth. When offered, Michel jumps at the chance to move to the Organized Crime division and take on Zampa. Playing loose with the rules, this Judge doesn’t sit behind a desk or rule on a bench, but he’s out in the field with his elite squad, arresting and booking criminals on the go. He gets results and it’s fun to watch Dujardin play Michel with fervor.
Not surprisingly stakes escalate, families and colleagues are threatened or killed. Each man can’t (and/or won’t) leave his life’s call. It’s a compliment to the finely tuned performances of Dujardin and Lellouche that these two complex good and bad guys are so watchable onscreen.
At times though, the film slides into genre expectations, and in truth there aren’t many surprises. But, it’s still a thrilling ride. Shot entirely on 35mm film and with a timely soundtrack, Jimenez and his talented cast and crew do well in portraying the period mood up to its stunning conclusion. “The Connection” stands as a solid European companion piece to “The French Connection.”
“The Connection” is 135 minutes, Rated R and opens May 15 in Los Angeles at the Landmark Theatre.