Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is back, with a new director (John Frankenheimer) and a new stomping ground (France!) in The French Connection 2, the sequel to William Friedkin's 1971 classic cop drama.
Sent to Marseilles to aid in the investigation into Alain Charnier's (Fernando Rey) drug empire, Doyle finds himself locking horns with the local police chief, Barthélémy (Fresson), and the typical bureaucratic bullshit and miles of red tape that hindered his investigation back in New York. This time, Doyle is determined to catch Charnier at any cost, including his own life. What Doyle doesn't realize is that he's been set up by both the French police and his own department, and is being used for bait to lure Charnier out of hiding. When Charnier finally does emerge, he kidnaps Doyle, and, in the film's most harrowing segment, gets Doyle hooked on the very same junk he's trying to get off the street. After weeks in captivity, Charnier is satisfied that Doyle knows nothing about his operation, and literally dumps him on the front steps of the police department. It is here that Barthélémy decides that the gloves must come off, and, after a grueling period of waning Doyle off heroin (hidden from prying eyes in the city jail), he and Doyle make one last desperate attempt to bring Charnier down.
While not as grim and gritty as Freidkin's original, The French Connection 2 is still an intense and thoroughly entertaining cop drama. After his Oscar for portraying Doyle in the first film, it's not really much of a surprise that this sequel would serve as something of a centerpiece for Hackman's character, and the actor really steps it up, here, offering a truly fearless performance that, in many ways, surpasses his previous outing.
Frankenheimer, meanwhile, makes for one hell of a "stand in" for Friedkin, and employs some fantastic camera work (watch the chase scene at the end, with the "Popeye's Eye" view for just one example), solid pacing, and also the restraint to let his actors carry some of the load.
French Connection 2 comes to Blu-ray in impressive fashion, boasting a solid 1.85:1 1080p transfer that is fairly clean and consistent, with only the occasional artifact and speckle of print dirt. There's a fine grain throughout, but nowhere near as distracting as the artificially enhanced grain of Friedkin's "remastered" original, and detail is strong throughout.
The DTS HD Master Audio track is a victim of its own monaural origins, with dialogue that's got just a hint of trebly distortion and somewhat canned sounding sound effects ruling the day. The mix is front heavy, mostly isolated to the center and subwoofer, with just a smattering of surround effects making their way to the satellites and rears. However, much like with The French Connection Blu-ray, this audio track is leaps and bounds better than the source track, which is also presented here for comparison's sake.
Supplements here pale in comparison to the 2-Disc bounty we received with the original film's Blu-ray, but there are some notable goodies here, including a pair of commentary tracks; one featuring director Frankenheimer, the other featuring Hackman and producer, Robert Rosen. AV nerds and burgeoning filmmakers will best be served by Frankenheimer's technique-heavy commentary, while the somewhat restrained Hackman and Rosen offer the more conversational approach to the film, often going off on tangents about fellow actors, crewmembers, and even touching upon things from the first film.
Two short HD featurettes - Frankenheimer in Focus and A Conversation with Gene Hackman - along with the film's theatrical trailer (HD), two international trailers (HD), and an isolated score track round out the goodies. The disc is also D-box enabled for those of you out there who fancy having your buttocks massaged to the sounds of gunfire and explosions.
The French Connection 2 is another impressive catalog release from Fox, sporting a solid-if-not-spectacular transfer and a decent assortment of special features. The real reason to buy this one, though, is for the film, itself, so any extra goodies are simply gravy. In the realm of sequels, this one rates up there with the best of them. Definitely one for the collection!