If you think you’re going to be seeing the charming, ebullient, iridescent Jean Dujardin of The Artist fame, then think again. In the Cedric Jimenez thriller The Connection, we see a very different incarnation: an obsessive, ruthless, deeply moral character, proving that Dujardin is a wonderfully versatile actor not to be typecast.
Based on a true story, the film focuses on the infamous French port of Marseilles, and one man’s quest to clean it up. Enter Dujardin as Pierre Michel, brought in as magistrate and soon introduced to the seedy underworld of Marseilles by the local police inspector, who gives us all a Scorsese-esque narrated whistle-stop tour of the main protagonists: the thugs, the extortionists, the cooks in their makeshift laboratories, the hapless bar owners, the mules, the bankers and the users – the entire gamut of a drugs empire laid out before us at a cracking pace.
And at the helm of this intricate and successful operation is one Gaetan Zampa, played with chilling authority by Gilles Lellouche. The new magistrate takes it upon himself to rid the city of this industry and its unwanted reputation, not least because the Americans are getting pretty fed up with the influx of hard drugs entering their shores. By fair means or foul (and not always strictly legal) he embarks on his remorseless mission, from the bottom up. The police force gleefully arrest just about every junkie and pusher they can find in the hopes that, eventually, this will lead them to the very top – the seemingly untouchable Zampa.
Jimenez does a fine job in keeping a fast-paced, always intriguing plot line, and balances the scenes of violence with glimpses of the family behind the two principal characters, in particular their quietly long-suffering wives. And this is the key to the film: the eternally fascinating relationship between the hunter and the hunted. As in the best traditions (Pacino and De Niro in Heat; Harry Potter and Voldemort; Superman and Lex Luthor) it’s the similarities rather than the differences between the two that comprises the core of the movie. With their shared debonair, sophisticated appearance, and single-minded, all-consuming motivation, these two have more in common than they would care to admit – they just happen to have found themselves on opposite sides of the law. They only encounter each other once in the entire film – on a deserted clifftop overlooking the Mediterranean – and the grudging mutual respect, the reluctant recognition of a kindred sprit, is palpable between the two. This is the pivotal moment, the moment that the story could go either way. And when the inevitable ending does arrive, it drips with irony.
There is nothing in this film that we haven’t seen before, since the drugs underworld has provided inspiration for so many notable films over the years (the 1975 classic French Connection II being an obvious comparison), but this is a welcome addition to the family – stylish, beautifully acted and absorbing.