Forget about Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry or even less realistic or interesting action stars such as Bruce Willis and Die Hard….Forget about TV Shows such as THE Wire or CSI….The greatest cop movie (or for that matter cop related story of any medium) is THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
There are several reasons why I feel this way….
1.) This film was not like your typical cop show full of unrealistic violence and unrealistic police lifestyles….It feels like a documentary….In fact, its realism creates an almost opposite effect especially when coupled with the French with English subtitles scenes which reminds one of an arty film, perhaps even European.
2.) Gene Hackman so inhabits the role of Narcotics detective Popeye Doyle that you cease to notice his Oscar winning performance as it just seems like a natural thing....Impressive and one cannot see the actor at all unless you look really, really close.
3.) One of the most striking contrasts I have ever seen in a movie and a powerful statement on the lack of glamour surrounding doing good whereas evil is often luxurious and decadent is the back to back scenes throughout THE FRENCH CONNECTION showing the affluent, cultured heroin smugglers who eat dinner in fancy restaurants, have beautiful young wives, drive luxury cars, know their foods and wines and the low paid detectives who often freeze outside on stakeouts, eat slices of greasy pizza and drink bad coffee in Styrofoam cups, live in cheap apartments in bad neighborhoods, and risk bodily harm on a day to day basis.
4.) There are a number of unforgettable visuals in this movie….The famous car chasing subway scene is fantastic jumping back and forth between the chaser and chasee….The equally famous scene of Doyle chasing French kingpin “Frog Number One” Alan Charnier and getting on and off the subway is equally great ….The first time we see Popeye Doyle and he’s dressed as Santa Claus and the ending (which I will get to in a minute) are memorable.
5.) The ending strips away the plot, the visuals, the fact that this based on a true story and all the other sundry details and forces the viewer to focus on the point in which devotion to duty crosses over into unhealthy obsession….The last scene where Doyle runs further into the abandoned building Ahab-like still seeking his white whale is the perfect summary of where he is going and totally lifts the movie to even a greater plateau of meaning.
6.) It has a pounding soundtrack which is used sparingly but when it is used immediately ratches up the tension.
On my top 100 movie list, I have THE FRENCH CONNECTION at #16.... I have not seen it in several years but I recently found a copy at a local DVD store and, after seeing it again after a while, I might have to bump it up a few spots.