The engrossing crime saga “The Connection” is the other half of “The French Connection,” that landmark blast of ’70s cinema about the importation of heroin to New York City. While this story, mostly set in the French port town of Marseilles, where the drugs begin their journey, shares a similar time period, it doesn’t have the first film’s sizzling sense of electricity.
There are no elaborate car chases or dizzyingly choreographed shootouts. Yet it’s nonetheless a compelling portrait of two men in a specific time and place.
Director/co-writer Cedric Jimenez focuses on a crime-busting new investigator, Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”), and the man he’s pursuing – the previously untouchable drug kingpin Gaetan “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche). In some ways, they’re mirror images of each other. Both are good at what they do, both have loving families to which they’re devoted, and both have traitors in their midst.
Those who’ve only seen Dujardin in “The Artist” may be surprised to see him ably tackle a much emotionally darker role, while Lellouche (“Mesrine Part 1,” “Point Blank”) brings an air of subtle and calculated menace.
Jimenez, who grew up in Marseilles, paints a picture of a sun-splashed city where the outbreaks of deadly violence provide the grim, emotional cloud cover.
An entertainingly eclectic use of period pop music – from Blondie and Serge Gainsbourg to Al Wilson and Townes Van Zandt – adds to the film’s allure.
Aside from the locale, there may be little here fans of crime films haven’t seen before. But it’s so well-executed that it’s hard to resist.
B CAST: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Céline Sallette.
DIRECTOR: Cédric Jimenez.
WRITERS: Audrey Diwan and Cédric Jimenez.
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes. In French and English with English subtitles.
RATING: R (strong violence, drug content, strong language).