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FRENCH CONNECTION II (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 19, 2009 by  



“An under appreciated sequel of the popular classic, ‘FRENCH CONNECTION II’ is full of action and features an impressive performance by Gene Hackman.  Action-packed, gritty and definitely worth watching on Blu-ray!

TITLE: FRENCH CONNECTION II

DURATION: 119 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Widescreen 1:85:1, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English, Spanish, French Mono, AVC @ 26MBPS

COMPANY: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Directed by John Frankenheimer

Story by Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon

Screenplay by Alexander Jacobs, Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon

Produced by Robert L. Rosen

Music composed by Don Ellis

Cast:

Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle

Fernando Rey as Alain Charnier

Bernard Fresson as Barthelemy

Phillippe Leotard as Jacques

Ed Lauter as General Brian

Charles Millot as Miletto

Jean-Pierre Castaldi as Raoul

Cathleen Nesbitt as the Old Lady

Gene Hackman returns as “Popeye” Doyle, the hard-nosed New York detective determined to break a French narcotics ring.  Kidnapped by a heroine kingpin in Marseilles, Doyle is mercilessly forced to become a junkie himself!  Gritty action, riveting performances and a vividly realistic setting make “French Connection II” a powerful sequel to the brilliant original.

Entertaining, gritty and taking the character of “Popeye” Doyle to new lows.  Excellent performance by Gene Hackman, it may not have the shocking action and the famous chase scene but on its own, “FRENCH CONNECTION II” is a good film and very entertaining.

Four years since the original “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”, in 1975, the sequel would be released.  Where the first film was based on real events on the lives of Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, the sequel is more fictional.

We learn that after the events in the first film, drug kingpin Alain Charnier escaped back to France.  And all the heroin impounded by the NYPD, money talks as all the money confiscated from the criminals was “lost” by the NYPD (and eventually returned to Charnier’s group of criminals in the US).

For Doyle, he wants Charnier and travels to Marseilles to search for him.

But Doyle definitely is having a tough time getting used to the French culture (not knowing how to speak the language) and he doesn’t quite get along with the French police (gendarmes).  Still arrogant and quick-tempered as ever and not exactly kind to other cultures, Doyle tries to have a working relationship with the head boss of the gendarmes Barthelemy (played by Bernard Fresson).

Doyle goes on an arrest mission with Barthelemy and in direct orders for him to stay close to him.  But Doyle ends up chasing a person fleeing from a home.  And using his New York style of beating on the assailants, Barthelemy tells Doyle that the guy is their informant.  Next thing you know, the people in the streets learn who is their snitch and murder the informant.

Barthelemy goes off on Doyle and bringing up his record of how people, including policeman have died because of him and Doyle wants to have nothing of it.

On a day where Doyle is at the beach looking for Charnier, Charnier spots him and becomes worried.

Meanwhile, Doyle does his own thing while Barthelemy just hopes he can go back home to New York.  Each time Doyle leaves somewhere, Barthelemy has two police escorts following him.  Doyle knows this and tries to escape from them.

He eventually succeeds but ends up being captured by Charnier’s men.  And while kidnapped, Charnier’s men tortures Doyle by injecting him continuously for three weeks full of heroin.

Charnier has Doyle (who is suffering from a heroin overdose) dropped off in front of the French police HQ and Barthelemy and his men do their best to revive him.  After succeeding, Barthelemy knows that Doyle can’t go back home as a junkie cop and thus has him incarcerated to protect him while he goes through weeks (or months) of drug withdrawals.

For the first time, Doyle has broken down.  Charnier has stripped his dignity and literally violated him.

Eventually, Doyle gets better but he realizes that the only reason why he was sent to France by the NYPD was that he could be used as bait for the French police to capture Charnier.  But for Doyle, he wants his revenge and he will do what it takes to capture or kill Charnier if he can.

By no means is “FRENCH CONNECTION II” a bad film.  It’s actually quite enjoyable.  It’s an under appreciated film because the original “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” was a well-done, multiple-award winning film that is too hard to surpass.  And I’m glad that Frankenheimer and Robert L. Rosen was not looking to surpass the original but create a good film focusing on the character of Doyle.

If there was one thing that “FRENCH CONNECTION II” was very fortunate to have and that was the return of Gene Hackman reprising his role as Doyle and most importantly having a talented director, John Frankenheimer known for his work in “The Manchurian Candidate” and many other films (a side note:  Car chase scenes have a “FRENCH CONNECTION” tie-in with the producer of that film also producing “BULLIT” and Frankenheimer who worked on “FRENCH CONNECTION II” creating one of more popular modern car chase scenes in his film “RONIN” in 1998).

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The picture quality for “FRENCH CONNECTION II” is actually pretty good.  Where “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” focused more on the grittiness of New York City with its shades of blues and use of blacks and director William Friedkin making sure that the Blu-ray disc showcases the film as he wanted, “FRENCH CONNECTION II” was filmed in France and featured the beauty of France with good sunlight and vibrant colors during the outdoor scenes. But also managing to capture the gritty and grimy areas of France.

Similar to the first film, there is a good amount of grain but with the film shot in Marseilles, France and a lot of sunshine and really interesting locations in France, considering how old this film is, overall it looked pretty good.

As for the audio, the audio is featured in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  Similar to the first film, the film is dialogue-driven and also showcases the music of Don Ellis.  Dialogue and music is quite clear and the film does feature more gunshots.  But overall, the film is mainly dialogue and music driven.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“FRENCH CONNECTION II” comes with a good number of special features.

  • A Conversation with Gene Hackman –  Gene Hackman expresses his feelings of working on a sequel and also knowing that perhaps director Frankenheimer may not be so happy doing a sequel but nevertheless did a good job but also felt the film was underappreciated because of the success of the first film.
  • Commentary by Gene Hackman and Producer Robert Rosen – This commentary features both men (not at the same time).  You mostly hear Robert Rosen talk and his commentary is more on the challenges.  Especially working with Frankenheimer who was not so thrilled of working on the sequel and Rosen reveals a lot.  From the difficulty of getting Mickey Mantle to give permission to use the “Mickey Mantle sucks” line to how the scene in France with Doyle running around looking for Charnier.  An informative commentary but quite a few dead air.  Hackman chimes in at certain key parts of the commentary but it seems the two were together but I think that Hackman was recorded at a separate time.
  • Commentary by Director John Frankenheimer – The original DVD release was back in 2001, Frankenheimer passed away in 2002.  So, this commentary is actually quite treasured as its one of the few DVD’s to feature commentary by Frankenheimer.  For filmmakers, Frankenheimer’s commentary was technical and thus you learn quite a bit about certain takes.  Of course, he credits Gene Hackman making it easy for him.  Overall, a well done commentary!
  • Frankenheimer: In Focus – This lengthy featurette is actually pretty awesome.  A celebration of Frankenheimer’s career as a filmmaker and television director.  You get to learn a lot about him through his wife, his daughter and those who have worked with him.
  • Isolated Score Track (DTS MA) – For those who love Don Ellis’s music in the film, you can strictly isolate the score if needed.
  • Enhances for D-Box Motion Control Systems – For those who have D-Box Motion Control capability.

“FRENCH CONNECTION II” was a tough sequel and I can see how intimidated director John Frankenheimer must have been on taking on the directorial responsibility.

Frankenheimer was a big fan of the first and what Friedkin was able to accomplish, so he tried his best to keep that in mind but most of all, because of his familiarity with France and the whole film taking place in France, the them of Doyle as a fish out of the water in a city where he can’t be the way he wants and live the way he wants, definitely made the hard-nosed character vulnerable.

But you have to give a lot of credit to Gene Hackman.  In the first film, “Popeye” Doyle was easily despicable but yet you rooted for him as he was going to take down the criminals his way and his style.  But with this second film, there is a good amount of time dedicated on the breakdown of Doyle and making him a junkie and then having to go through major withdrawals as they try to make him well.  Hackman did a wonderful job!

As for the Blu-ray disc release, it’s great to have one of the final commentaries of one of the most talented director’s of all time and it was a well-done commentary.  The tribute to Frankenheimer with a special featurette on his career was another major plus that I was proud of.

Overall, “FRENCH CONNECTION II” was an enjoyable film.  Although not following the lives of Egan and Grosso like the first film, I feel that a story on Doyle and seeing how he’s broken down by the criminals but then seeing him re-emerge to exact revenge right back at them was great.

If there was one thing that I wished was done, that is subtitling on the French.  Sure, it’s not really needed but with a good ample of French being spoken, it would have been nice to see subtitles for that.

But overall, it was an enjoyable film and a pretty cool Blu-ray disc transfer with a good amount of special features .   Hopefully we may see the return of “Popeye” Doyle or a passing of a torch for a third film over three decades later.

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