Man, this was a tough one. I'm gonna get Hell for this one... so let's just get this over with. The film follows two cops in the narcotics unit, the foul-mouthed 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner, Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). They start getting wind of a big drug deal about to go down, so they spend a couple months following its suspects and staking everything out before they make their move. But there's a French connection--a French man who has come to the States in order to make the deal.
This might sound confusing to those who read the Heat review, but my issues with this film are almost the exact opposite reasons of my issues with that film... but at the same time, almost the exact same reasons. Let me explain. As I mentioned, Heat had too many unnecessary subplots that tried to deepen the characters but ended up just staying at a shallow level and never amounted to much. Despite this, I could follow that film easily and always knew--and even, at times, cared--what was going on. This film had no subplots. It didn't try to make its characters very three-dimensional whatsoever, with the exception of the last minute of the film (which I'll get to later). And even watching with my fullest attention, I had a hard time following or caring much about anything.
First and foremost, I didn't give a damn about any of the characters. And it wasn't because I disagreed with their personalities or anything like that. They just felt so foreign (no pun intended). Almost nothing about their personal lives was explored. All we saw of them, for the most part, was them following people for the entire movie. I just... felt nothing for these characters. And if I can't get invested in the characters, then... you're gonna have a hard time grabbing me for the movie.
Of all the kinds of "cops" films out there, the narcotics/drugs ones always tend to be my least favorite (Training Day notwithstanding). They just don't really catch my interest. So, as with Training Day, they tend to need to catch me with great characters and some fine acting. They've already lost me on the characters. Can they at least make up for it in the acting?
Gene Hackman does the best with what he's given. And as he's the main character, I'm happy for that. He's at least interesting as the "bad cop," the one with the attitude. I suppose maybe because of the time the movie was made, but I would have liked to have seen more with the character. Besides that, he has a moment in the last minute of the film where you notice he's really lost it due to his obsession. And then you get the ending--which I think might have worked better had they stopped there and left it ambiguous. But whatever.
There are two scenes that I feel should be mentioned, both involving trains. First is my favorite scene in the film: Gene Hackman is following the French dude into a subway station, but the Frenchman knows he's being followed. So he keeps getting on and off the trains at that station to throw off Hackman, and Hackman keeps having to come up with excuses to follow him on and off the trains. It's almost a comedy routine, but I found it pretty clever. The other scene is the famous "still holds up today/most epic scene ever" car vs. train chase scene. Going in, I heard nothing but excellent things about this, and I was waiting just to see this bucket of awesomeness. And then it happened and... I was so sorely let down. Not only is about half the car part done in first person so you're rarely even seeing the car as it speeds on, but the car and train are almost never shown in the same shot. It gives a feeling that it's not really a race as much as two separate scenes juxtaposed against each other. And on top of that, almost literally the entire thing has Gene Hackman honking that damn horn, and it got really annoying pretty fast.
I'm just gonna end this review there. On the whole, I can say that director William Friedkin made a solid film. "WHAT?" you say, after I just finished ripping it apart. No, I think that on a technical level, this movie isn't bad. I mean, Hell, it won 5 Oscars, after all (nominated for 8). And you know the guy is a talented director. Right after making this, he went on to direct The Exorcist, nominated for 10 Oscars (winning 2). (Coincidentally, co-star Roy Scheider was only 4 years away from starring in a little known horror film of his own.) Anyway, all of my issues with this movie are--for the most part--purely personal. The story and the characters and the filmmaking, etc., weren't bad by any means. They just weren't what I want and like in a film. Hence, that's why I feel this was a tough one.