French Connection II, The (US - BD)
Gabe finally checks out the continued adventures of Detective Popeye Doyle...
Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is back on the trail of French Connection mastermind Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), and has chased him all the way back to Marseilles. Doyle hooks up with the local law enforcement, who doesn’t particularly like the way he gets things done.
I’m trying to find an interesting place in film history for French Connection II, and my first reaction is to call it one of the more successful unneeded sequels of all time. But a glance at most of the world’s favourite movie sequels reveals a whole collection of generally unneeded films. Alien, Night of the Living Dead, The Terminator, Toy Story, and even Star Wars and The Godfather are perfect stand alone films, yet most fans prefer the sequels. The first French Connection does end before the real story, on a downer, but this haunting end is an important part of what makes the film a classic. I was personally so disinterested in a follow-up that even John Frankenheimer’s name on the marquee didn’t get me to rent the film all these years.
The big fat difference between French Connection II and William Friedkin’s original is that this film isn’t really based on the true story. The story is a fair continuation, but isn’t based on anything specific, and there’s a lingering sense that the film was only made to please popular audiences that didn’t quite get the original’s ambiguity. The Popeye Doyle character of this film is a somewhat cartoonish version, but generally we can consider this a ‘realistic’ follow up to the alienated and nihilistic character that ended the first film obsessively chasing ghosts. The alienation is a little overplayed in this film, but again realistic considering the new locale. The problem is that the alienation, which was mostly subtextual in the original film, is so prevalent in this film that at about the 35 minute mark one starts to wonder when the plot’s going to kick in.
Well, it never really kicks in, but French Connection II stays generally true to the (at the time) shockingly real nature of the first film, culminating in a truly disturbing series of scenes involving Charnier’s men shooting Doyle full of heroine for days on end in an attempt to make him talk. Like the rest of the film this doesn’t really go anywhere (why doesn’t Charnier just kill Doyle?), but the brutality is appreciated, and to a certain degree so is the film’s listless narrative after enough time has elapsed. It’s overlong, and not in my opinion worth watching more than maybe once, but it’s true to the feel of the original, even if it doesn’t have anything new to add.
Director John Frankenheimer is no stranger to raw and gritty action, and proved himself a much more consistent filmmaker than William Friedkin over his very long career. Frankenheimer was a good choice because he’s more of a craftsman than an artist, and the script plays mostly to his strengths. The procedural scenes of addicting Doyle to heroine, and then cleaning him up, have a quality similar to the famous hypnotism scenes in the original Manchurian Candidate, and the nightmare hallucinations of Seconds. The only surprise is the lack of car chases, considering producer Robert Rosen’s work with the original film and Bullitt, and Frakenheimer’s work with Grand Prix and Ronin. Though the last scene foot chase is an entertaining bit of business.
There’s not a lot of question concerning the clarity of this new hi-def transfer, but I never bothered to see the film on VHS or DVD, so I’m not the best source of update knowledge. Mostly it’s just clear that nobody messed with the colour timing of this French Connection, unlike the other one, which was overdone for the digital age. There is some very minor artefacting, including small flecks of white, but grain is surprisingly absent comparatively. The film’s age is clear in its detail levels, which are sharp enough, but a little dulled and dated. The film’s blood is that perfectly ‘70s hue (way too light), and is almost blinding compared to the other colours in this dulled pallet, minus a few shocks of brighter clothing. Colours are mostly realistic, but not particularly vibrant. Compression noise is nowhere in site, and separation is crisp.
This new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t compare to the French Connection remix from the first note of the opening credits. This is a much flatter track, equivalent more to a suped-up mono track than a true top to bottom revamp. Sound effects are a little on the tinny side and don’t do a lot for the stereo and surround channels, but it’s nice to be free of cheap post production tinkering, of which the French Connection Blu-ray is one of the few successes. The dialogue track, though centered and generally clear, isn’t entirely natural, is sometimes overpowered by sound effects, and is slightly off sync in a few scenes. The ADR grunts and curses are almost comically off register. I recommend changing over to the Dolby mono track, which features less echo, and is slightly thicker.
There’s also an isolated score available here, which sounds like listening to the soundtrack album on CD. It’s another DTS track, but it comes off as more of a stereo track.
The extras begin with two commentary tracks, one featuring Frankenheimer, and the other featuring both Gene Hackman and producer Robert Rosen. Realistically speaking all three tracks could’ve probably been edited together given all the blank space, but the information is valuable when it finally rears its head. Frankenheimer seems to think he’s lecturing a film class, while Hackman and Rosen give up more pertinent set stories. Frankenheimer’s best moment is where he assures the more PC members of the audience that one can’t make a film about France without people smoking, claiming that the surgeon general must have died there. There are also interesting moments where commentators recall script and stage additions from the real French mafia. Good tracks, but pretty thin, which becomes frustrating.
‘Frankenheimer in Focus’ is a very well made miniature documentary about the director’s Hollywood career, with a special focus on The French Connection II. The doc includes older interview footage with Frankenheimer himself, who talks about technique, and inspiration (a lot of it not related to film), and new interviews with experts and cohorts, like William Friedkin (who refers to Frankenheimer as his idol), Bruce Dern, Tom Rolf, Ed Lauter, and Frankenheimer’s own wife and daughter. Over the relatively brief 25 minutes the director’s highest profile films, his place in American politics, the filming of some of FCII and Black Sunday more difficult scenes, his work with actors, and the Emmy Award winning TV work he did towards the end of his career.
Things come to a quick close with a seven minute conversation with Gene Hackman (who mostly reiterates things he said on the commentary track), two still galleries (wardrobe, storyboards), three French Connection II trailers, and a trailer for the first film.
Strangely enough, despite overall quality, I don’t think that French Connection II is a must see for fans of the original film. I do, however, now consider it a must see for fans of actor Gene Hackman, who plays Popeye Doyle with all his cylinders running full bore. The film’s age and grit doesn’t lead to a super-impressive hi-def transfer, and the DTS remix is a bit miffed, but as long as the audience is willing to admit the film’s vintage, and listen to the mono track, there shouldn’t be too many complaints. The extras are minimal, but enjoyable enough.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 24th February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, Dolby Digital 2.0 French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Actor/Producer Commentary, Frankenheimer in Focus, Trailers, Isolated Score, Image Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Jean-Pierre Castaldi
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 119 minutes
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