The influence of Goodfellas and the pinpoint aesthetic that Martin Scorsese brought to every frame is still being seen and felt within modern crime dramas.
The influence of Goodfellas and the pinpoint aesthetic that Martin Scorsese brought to every frame is still being seen and felt within modern crime dramas. Unfortunately, that impact has been dulled and watered down in the years since that film’s release. With everyone from Quentin Tarantino to Ted Demme to Jon Favreau trying to bring a similar feel and mood to their work, any new attempt at a Scorsese-like movie feels like a copy of a copy of a copy.
That’s certainly the case with The Connection. Directed by young gun Cédric Jimenez, the film, as the title suggests, looks into the same “inspired by true events” world of drug trafficking that fueled the 1971 Academy Award-winner The French Connection and its sequel made four years later (and was also touched on within the running time of The Godfather and American Gangster). The action here takes place primarily on the sun-baked streets of Marseille, where drug kingpin Gaetan Zampa (played by Gilles Lellouche) has his lucrative operation threatened by handsome and fiercely dedicated magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin).
With that as his foundation, Jimenez hits all of the Scorsese-esque tropes like he’s working from a checklist: extensive montages set to rousing pop songs, rapid-fire editing, lots of colorful scenes of men conversing. And he and co-screenwriter Audrey Diwan do their best to hit the other crime drama concerns, throwing in the dull procedural work of men in crisp white dress shirts, Michel’s obsession with the case threatening his sanity and the calm of his family, and several scenes meant to draw parallels between the lives of the lawman and the criminal.
Outside of the yeoman’s work done by the two lead actors, nothing else about The Connection delivers in any marked way. Few of the big dramatic scenes feel as tense as they should, and the humanizing moments for Michel’s character feel strangely tacked on. As well, the film feels far too fatty, with unnecessary sojourns to New York by both main characters, and lots of explanatory gristle that does the two-hour long film no favors. If Jimenez really wants to attempt a Scorsese-type picture, he needs a Thelma Schoonmaker at his side to help trim down this needlessly indulgent work.
In spite of its considerable flaws, it’s impressive that The Connection ends up being as watchable as it is. Like many of the children of Goodfellas that have been released over the past nearly 30 years—especially the batch that showed up following Pulp Fiction—the movie is packed with interesting faces and quietly compelling turns by a number of French character actors like the always-reliable Benoit Magimel and young Guillaume Gouix playing members of Zampa’s crew and the French police, respectively.
The crew also makes great use of his Marseille locations, contrasting the ugliness of the world that Zampa inhabits with the beauty of the southern coast. The natural world shines even when being captured by egregiously shaky handheld cameras. Would that the rest of the film could have outshone Jimenez’s unsteady directorial vision.