It took me until all but a few years ago when I saw William Friedkin’s Academy Award winning “The French Connection” (1971) for the first time. The quintessential cop movie of the seventies which laid the groundwork for and acts as a template for almost every single film to come out of the genre since. Then I caught wind that the European take on the same story was being released starring the famous French actor Jean Dujardin, who was introduced to American audiences in 2011 for his performance in “The Artist”. A film that landed him both a Golden Globe and Oscar win for Best Actor. So I figured it had to be of some quality. Then I watched the enticing trailer, which appeared to put more of a crime laden spin on the story than the American version, so given my affinity for French films in general (in my opinion, the reigning champs of the film industry – the French just always seem to do it better) plus the talent involved and favorable reviews, it seemed like something worth giving a shot.
The film tells the tale of a drug smuggling ring located out of Marseilles, France. A ring whose boss, played by another great French actor, Gilles Lellouche, matched up a cop (Dujardin), who’s promoted to magistrate and assigned to the case in hopes of bringing him down. Dujardin’s an ex-Child Protection Services worker who has seen first hand the devastation that the drug trade has had on the lives of the people he’s worked with. So the case seems tailor-made for him. He immediately begins to go after Lellouche’s band of thugs, who have basically remained untouchable for almost 20 years without anybody being able to bring them down. It’s this “taking down” of one of the world’s largest drug traffickers that drives the story. With a game of cat and mouse which ranks up there with and draws similarities to the Pacino/DeNiro dynamic in Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995).
This is a compelling and riveting thriller that puts a nice spin on the story of the “French Connection”. It’s also another welcome addition to the crime genre, which seems to be on a bit of a hot streak lately with films like last year’s “A Most Violent Year” as well as this year’s brilliant Italian mob film “Black Souls”. The acting is top-notch by both of its two leads and the story progresses at a mostly steady pace. Like the movie’s poster accurately suggests, it takes almost every film I’ve seen from the crime genre and packs into a riveting story even with its 2 hour and 15 minute running time which goes by rather fast (always the sign of a good story). The chase between cop and robber almost never lets up throughout the entire duration, and there are murderous acts committed constantly while showing a seemingly accurate portrayal of all aspects of how the drug trade functions. We’ve seen material like this before but not to such an extent. I also recognized how great the musical score was which was fitting seeing as several key scenes are filmed in nightclubs (remember this is the 1970’s) featuring artists from that time (Blondie, The Velvet Underground) infused with more contemporary music from the likes of Lykke Li and Kim Wilde. These club scenes in particular were nicely shot and were similar to those in Brian DelPalma’s “Scarface” (1983). My one somewhat major critique on top of the many strong components was the film slowed down and fell into over-melodramatic territory in its second act. After such a strong opening and closing it felt like this section could have been trimmed down a bit as its message became slightly too clear. This aside, it is still a very worthwhile effort, especially for fans of the crime drama, as there’s a lot to like on display. Hopefully it will gain some strong word-of-mouth so it will be more familiar to American audiences by the time it hits the DVD/VOD rental market later this summer. [strong B]
Next up was a new to DVD horror release, “We Are Still Here” that I literally knew nothing about other than that it starred Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, and the Ron Perlman of horror films – Larry Fessenden (like Perlman, I almost want to clap when this guy shows up on the screen as he just has this uncanny ability to grab your attention with his idiosyncratic persona). That and for a horror film, it surprisingly got above somewhat favorable reviews. The story is pretty familiar territory – a late middle age couple moves from the city to the country in rural Massachusetts to start anew and grieve quietly over the recent and sudden death of their son. Except they wind up buying an old house which used to be a mortuary and get this, there are spirits that may still be alive and operating there that want to kick out the new homeowners. The local townspeople, also knowing about the legacy of the house, shun the new couple by making sure they don’t feel welcome, which in certain scenes reminded me a bit of Sam Pickenpah’s “Straw Dogs” (1971). The story itself also draws striking similarities to that of both “The Haunting in Connecticut” (2009) and especially James Wan’s remarkable “The Conjuring” (2013).
While the production felt cheap, the acting a bit choppy (some of the lines are delivered like they’re being read off of a teleprompter), and a mostly predictable story. This film had its fair share of components within it that I really liked as well. The creatures that inhabit the house were pretty original which I liked. That it’s got a high body count and plenty of gore. Like one of those films where people get dragged out of nowhere into hidden areas of the house and then you see buckets of blood thrown against the wall. One of my major criteria of this type of horror is that it’s got to be gruesome. And this film didn’t disappoint in that department. What I will say though, is for the few reasons mentioned about why I liked it somewhat, it’s just barely strong enough to be worthy of recommending. What I couldn’t help stop thinking though throughout its entire duration was that at the hands of a more well-known director with a stronger cast, this could have been something much greater. Only for the most diehard of horror fans, as mentioned there was just enough to like. For anyone else though, this might feel too cheap yet good enough to be a solid SciFi channel horror movie of the week. [C+/B-]