The chase scene begins it’s build up with a shot of Brooklyn’s El train, this not only establishes the location of the scene but is almost an omen of what is about to take place. In the same shot the camera titles down to an image of a child riding a tricycle, a clear sign of vulnerability then zooming forward to introduce “Popeye” Doyle, an NYPD cop, played by Gene Hackman, whose body language suggests he is very hardboiled.
In the same shot, giving this scene a very documentary realist style, we follow Doyle walking until we’re cut to another angle now looking at Hackman from the right hand side as he walks past another image of vulnerability, a mother pushing her a buggy. By now it is clearly established to be winter through the characters costume and setting, the trees in Brooklyn are empty and all actors are wearing winter coats.By this point the scene has consisted of long shots with just one cut, and judging from the previous uneventful scenes of the movie the audience are likely to feel calm and secure that nothing dramatic is about to happen.
The viewer’s security, built by Friedman, is then shattered when a gunshot from nowhere hits the mother with the pram.
We then see a match on action cut when Doyle rolls to the cover of the tree, we now assume that the shot was meant for him.As Doyle takes aim at the sniper the intensity of the scene if heightened with a sequence of rapid and violent cuts between Doyle and the sniper, or good and evil with intercut shots of the public reacting to the terror. We’re then invited to view things from Doyle’s point of view as he looks for the sniper, then a quite cut to his face when ‘bang’ he is shot at, before we cut to the sniper who is nothing but a silhouette and at this stage unidentified. This is a very powerful sequence of fast cats that really emphasises the violence and intensity of the scene.
While the hand held, unsteady camera work denotes a certain amount of realism. I think it is worth noting that the camera men were not aware of where the action in this scene would lead, and were told to film what they saw the best they could thus giving it a sincere sense of realism. Now we see Hackman’s body language change from a completely defenceless, anxious character to a more determined cop now on the pursuit of this shooter. Doyle walks, back to the wall avoiding the snipers sight.
This shot show’s Doyle in an open space leaving him very vulnerable as he walks past windows of the building revealing young children watching on, adding to the sense of vulnerability that “Popeye” would be feeling. There is a sense of emptiness as Doyle is on his way to the building of the sniper, as Doyle is the only guy in these very open shots. This now changes as he gets to the door, fast cuts are made to symbolise his ascension of the stairs when we know it would have taken longer, this is done to speed up the chase. We’re again invited to see Doyle’s perspective as he reaches the roof.
Huge suspense is created here, as we don’t know where the sniper is due to limited vision. Another hand held camera follows an apprehensive Doyle up a set of stairs and cuts to a shot of a rifle on the floor, a sign that the sniper was here. Doyle then looks off the roof to see a man running away; from his actions we assume he is the assassin. It is at this point that the chase begins.
As the chase has now effectively began, we are presented with an ominous perspective shot of the street under the El train tracks, which we will later see as a point of view from Doyle’s car.The frantic action of the chase on foot is expressed through blurred vision and use of a hand held camera. Cuts are made between point of view shots and side shots, going back and forth from the subjective and the objective. There is parallel action going on here of both characters perspectives as the sniper eludes into the station.
This next shot is a classical example of suspense; similar to the roof, as Doyle arrives on the platform he is unaware of the sniper’s whereabouts. The audience is left intrigued and on the edge of their seat in anticipation of where the killer might be.The camera then pans across the opposite platform as we’re looking through the eyes of Doyle searching for his man. First it swipes across to an old women and children, then to a man who is almost identical to the killer but not, then it swipes across to another man, but then pans back to a pillar where we can see the sniper hiding behind.
Doyle pulls out his gun despite the children around, showing his obsession and determination with catching this man. His facial expression is very intense, but timed to the last second; a train crosses into frame blocking Doyle’s aim.By this point Doyle’s body language suggests he is extremely frustrated, he is bouncing up and down in rage. His deep breathes pushing out long gusts of steam, also establishing the winter weather this was taking place in.
“Stop him” he screams, but to no avail. A point of view shot from the perspective of the El train driver is now given to us, looking onward to the perspective of the tracks signifying the beginning of the train part of this chase. Hand held camera follows Doyle out of the station, letting us know this chase is far from over.The pace of the cutting is now speeding up; parallel editing between the two characters suggesting the hunt is underway.
Doyle try’s to signal down a car from members of the public in a long shot with no cuts, which is almost a way of getting the viewer as frustrated as Doyle would have been, after such fast cuts and action we as an audience want Doyle to catch up to the criminal as quick as possible. Eventually Doyle manages to obtain a vehicle, driving off into the distance leaving the owner of the car alone and bewildered.Parallel cuts are now made between the train and the car, there is a chase inside a chase in that the killer is moving down the train trying to escape the guard while also being pursued by Hackman. While given a fantastic aerial shot of Doyle in the car almost a point of view shot from the train.
For this sequence there is a camera mounted on the front of Doyle’s car to give us shots from Doyle’s perspective, while Doyle is actually driving through New York traffic without permission creating an extreme realistic effect that had never been done before.The sense of speed is created with reflections on the windscreen but more so with the sound effects or car horns and screeching pumps up the action. With intercutting side shots of Doyle’s face with a manic, intentive look on his face, an intensity that grows as the chase continues. An astonishing shot from the car in front of Doyle’s shows the truly erratic driving that was taking place, weaving in and out of cars.
Whilst back on the train the killer is still moving down the train until we’re given a point of view shot of the sniper as he shoots down the guard.Showing how far these two individuals are going to get what they want. The sense of speed is even stronger now as Friedman used high speed tracking shots of the train and Doyle’s vehicle back to back giving an almost roller coaster effect. Also shots of oncoming traffic from Doyle’s point of view intercut with shots of his angry, determined facial expressions heighten the dramatic quality of the pursuit.
Leaving the audience in suspense of whether he can make it through without any collisions, until ‘crash’, he hits a car shocking the viewer.By this time the killer has hijacked the train and killed another guard, the extremity of both characters actions is amazing. Both Doyle and the unnamed killer are very similar in the way they are both acting, except the body language of Doyle is that of relentless determination and no remorse whereas the killer is enthralled in panic. The hunter has clearly become the hunted now; the pursuer has become the pursued.
Hackman catches up to the killer at the next station but the train does not stop. Doyle is now furious and has an emotional outburst of frustration; we feel what he feels at this point.The pursuit continues untill the train, under no control, crashes into another train. This crash was cleverly filmed pulling away from the train and later put in reverse.
The killer, now aware he has nowhere to run, has to leave the train. Doyle catches up to him and chases him to until they reach a staircase. Doyle is clearly now fatigued as his body language suggests, he leans on the hand rail at the bottom of the stairs as the killer stands at the top. They stare at eachother; Doyle with a look of content and the unnamed assasin with a look of apprehension.
The scene has reached it’s climax, and the tension is at an all time high. The audience now knows that their about to be relieved. The killer then turns away as Doyle controversially shoots him in the back. This scene doesn’t just show us the typical good guy vs bad guy scenario but gives us something more controversial.
Doyle being a hero we can relate to with actual emotions and weaknesses. This makes the audience form a bond with the character not only because they wish for good to prevail but because they see themselves in Popeye Doyle.
Cite this The French Connection Analysis
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