A movie about bringing down druglords that's actually mostly about movies, Cédric Jimenez's The Connection is stretched over driven-cop beats so familiar American audiences could probably follow it without subtitles. (It's in French -- add that to the title, and you get a sense of its police-film ambitions.) It's a fleet, engrossing, familiar drama, a movie that's forever moving: down Marseille's winding coastal highways, through throbbing mobs of extras at its Seventies discotheques, along the corridors of a hospital on a gurney with the bloody victim of a hit.
The movie is as dense and quick as that follow-the-money montage in Scorsese's Casino. You're likely to wonder, "They cast and lit a dozen exquisite clubgoers in a mirrored VIP room just for this four-second sliver?" Everything's shorthand, rapid, ostentatiously lavish -- and often impressive despite not transcending the crime stories it echoes. The shame of that: This one honors a real lawman's struggle and sacrifice, even as the film itself feels like gangland play.
Jean Dujardin plays a newly appointed magistrate trying to crack open the heroin trade in Marseille in the Seventies -- yes, the French Connection. His white whale is Gaëtan Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), a heroin kingpin given to the motivational slapping of underlings. The acting is serious and manly, sometimes suggesting what Nic Cage has been going for in recent years; the druglord, dedicated to his own ethical code, erupts into violence without warning but is also prone to swoons and tenderness.
These moments of high emotion might resonate more if we spent time with these characters, if the film weren't always hustling us on to the next bit -- and if those bits weren't so familiar.