From the opening sequence featuring two men speeding along a coastline highway on the back of a speeding motorcycle, you know this is going to be a good film. And The Connection doesn't disappoint. You quickly realise that the men are in hot pursuit of a car and their journey ends in a bloody confrontation, setting the scene for what's to come.
Oscarwinner Jean Dujardin plays Pierre Michel, a Marseille lawman recruited by a judge to work the infamous case involving what was the biggest drugs cartel in Europe. In 1975, the demand for heroine was at a peak and the French seaside town played an integral part, acting as a conduit between Turkey, where the drug was harvested, and the US.
Gilles Lelllouche, meanwhile, plays ruthless drug kingpin Gaetan "Tany" Zampa, whose operation runs circles around the law enforcement agencies. Michel's critics call him The Cowboy, while he earns the nickname The Magistrate after he throws the legal book at Zampa's band of thugs, picking them up for minor infractions - even fabricated ones. But the kingpin himself escapes capture and his arrest becomes Michel's obsession, leading him to a dangerous confrontation.
Dujardin gives such a charming performance, women will want to be sleep with him, and men will want to be him. There is a quality of masculinity French men have which is unmatched by the British; actors such as Benjamin Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne look decidedly fey in comparison.
The Connection really is a macho fest: women have little to do here. The excellent Celine Sallette is underused as Jaqueline, Michel's long-suffering wife, while Pauline Burlet is the tortured drug addict Lily, who gives Michel his first important break in the case.
There's a sequence where Michel is invited to New York to meet the DEA team working the case. "Do you speak English?" one detective asks him and Michel replies, "A little" - a cute reference to Dujardin's awardwinning performance in The Artist.
Zampa and Michel go at it head to head, but only one man can win. The Connection shows that, unlike the movies, life is never black or white; we exist in shades of grey. As I watched, I couldn't help but think, "If Hollywood were to remake this, they would definitely change the ending." And the film would be all the poorer for it.
The Connection is beautifully realised, the attention to detail is stunning. (Ladies, you'll find yourself hankering after the outfits, while guys will want to get the soundtrack, if not the sideburns.)
At just over two hours, The Connection is a little overlong, but this is a minor quibble. This is hands down the best film I have seen this year.Suggest a correction