Although it was released as The French Connection Number 2 in the UK, one of the claims to fame of John Frankenheimer’s sequel is that it started the trend of Roman numerals after the title. Otherwise, French Connection II is not exactly a classic sequel; it doesn’t have the NYC setting, only a couple of returning characters, no car chase, and offers a very different mood to William Friedkin’s scuzzy Oscar-winner. Friedkin wasn’t interested either, but Hackman presumably liked the idea of retuning to the role of cop Popeye Doyle, arriving in Marseilles without any French and falling foul of hoods and police alike on the trail of Frog One (Fernando Rey). Most reviewers focus on a lengthy rehab scene after Doyle is shot full of heroin, and while Hackman’s commitment and performance levels are admirable, it derails the energy of the movie without upping the stakes and is probably the reason that it’s not as fondly remembered. But The French Connection’s ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here, including a big-scale docklands shoot-out, a raid on a drug-packaging and distribution plant, and some great bits of business with Doyle; expressing remorse after blowing a fellow cops cover, forming a wordless bond with a barman, or hitching a ride on a garbage truck to avoid a tail, Hackman inhabits this signature role so well that, even if it’s not quite the original, Frankenheimer’s thriller has a weather-beaten style of its own.
Peter Hyams is a director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work. Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield). An early scene in which the cops enjoy the beating up of men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous honesty is what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys. Hyams supercharges his story with a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out before television and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.
Edgar Wright saw this on BBC 1 in the Saturday Night slot generally used for the Starsky and Hutch import back in the early 80’s and it became one of the jumping off points for Hot Fuzz; it was a heavily cut version of Gordon Parks film that he saw, and the uncensored version is a much more salty prospect. Ron Liebeman and David Selby are the two NYC cops who annoy their superiors with their high rate of busts; hated by their colleagues, the public love them and the title of Batman and Robin is given to them; the screenplay is by the scribe of the original Batman tv show Lozenzo Semple Jr. There’s certainly some comic-book zest about the brisk action, notably a climax in a mid-demolition building where a wrecking-ball nearly knows the super-cops for six. Post-Shaft, Parks knows how to get the best in local colour out of the Brooklyn setting, and even if there’s a lingering feeling that the truth behind this story isn’t on show, The Super Cops is an arresting experience for crime-movie aficionados.
Writer/director David Ayer was a major force in the decommissioning of three-act stricture movies with more documentary realism, getting good results with Training Day and End of Watch, tough gritty looks at the lives of LA cops. His 2005 film Harsh Times is a loosely structured but still engrossing character study of Jim (Christian Bale), a low-life criminal who aspires to work in law enforcement but whose life is on the skids. His relationship with pal Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) is sorely tested, and his dreams of a new life in Mexico with Eva Longoria become more unlikely as Jim sinks deeper into petty crime. Ayers ‘ project feels personal, and is wrought with profane energy from the always excellent Bale.
Bronwen Hughes directed this entertaining police drama, with the story torn from the headlines o 1980’s South Africa. Stander (Thomas Jane) is a tough cop who becomes disillusioned with life under apartheid. His reaction was to form the Stander gang, a high-profile team of bank robbers taking on the system and winning. Jane is an often overlooked talent who throws himself into the role, sporting crazy fashions and a variety of moustaches and sideburn combinations, with support from David O’Hara and Dexter Fletcher. Stander is a tall tale, executed with style, and it’s one of the few films about apartheid that avoid preachiness and look at the local complexities of the issues involved.