A movie review of “The Connection”: The pacing and central performances make this a gripping story of the French Connection from the French perspective. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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It starts with gunshots — a Mercedes and its driver are riddled by motorcycle-riding assassins in broad daylight — and the pace of “The Connection” is bang-bang brisk most of the rest of the way.

Writer-director Cédric Jimenez gives us the story of “The French Connection” from the French perspective. The hero here isn’t a bullying, bullheaded NYPD flatfoot so memorably played by Gene Hackman in William Friedkin’s 1971 Oscar-winning crime epic. Rather, he’s a crusading French magistrate played by Oscar-winning Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) who’s ferociously focused on dismantling the Marseille-based heroin-smuggling operation known as the French Connection.

Taking place between 1975 and 1981 and based on actual people and incidents, “The Connection” plays out as a battle between two willful individuals: magistrate Pierre Michel and smuggling network kingpin Gatean Zampa (Gilles Lellouche).

Movie Review ★★★  

‘The Connection,’ with Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Céline Sallette, Mélanie Doutey. Directed by Cédric Jimenez, from a screenplay by Jimenez and Audrey Diwan. 135 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, drug content and language. In French, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

Both are devoted family men, with Jimenez spending significant screen time to focus on their family connections to humanize them. And both are fearless — at least at first.

Zampa dismisses his henchmen’s worries about the newly appointed judge as baseless. He’s been unchallenged for so long and has the courts and cops so thoroughly under his thumb that he’s grown arrogant. For his part, Michel throws himself heedlessly into his work, accompanying cops on hazardous busts, literally running toward danger.

And then, as Michel’s dubiously legal surveillance methods and mass roundups of Zampa’s associates put the squeeze on the kingpin, Zampa starts to crack. And then lets Michel know that the judge’s activities could have fatal consequences.

With its ’70s-era sideburns, twirling disco balls and Debbie Harry belting out “Call Me” on the soundtrack, “The Connection” effectively evokes the era in which it’s set. Its plot of move and countermove by cops and crooks, with plenty of high-caliber rubouts along the way, is standard police procedural stuff. But the staccato pacing and the power of its central performances make “The Connection” an undeniably gripping picture.