The French Connection (1971)
Succeeded by: French Connection II (1975)
There's nothing fancy about William Friedkin's The French Connection, one of the few R-rated movies ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. The film gained notoriety for being starkly realistic, based upon a real story about two cops staking out a big drug deal in New York City. It wouldn't be right to say that the film hasn't stood the test of time, but it may be noted that what made the film stand out in 1971 – the depiction of crime and policing as something dirty, circumstantial and unheroic – probably won't seem quite as fresh and exceptional today. That being said, The French Connection was and still should be seen as a document of a bleak period in the history of New York City, and this is where Friedkin's documentarian style comes into its own, showing a filthy and unfriendly city where everyone is on their own and the authorities use aggression to try to solve problems they don't quite understand. Friedkin's highlight here is an almost balletic cat-and-mouse hunt between Hackman and Rey on the subway. The film inspired a new wave of stripped-down crime movies, notably the early films of Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), propelled Gene Hackman into (a rather unlikely) stardom, and gave William Friedkin the possibility to make The Exorcist two years later.