Tough narcotics detective 'Popeye' Doyle is in hot pursuit of a suave French drug dealer who may be the key to a huge heroin-smuggling operation.
[A] discreetly charming scheme to smuggle a carload of heroin into the U.S. by persuading a famous French TV actor […] to import the vehicle for use in a documentary film he’s making […] ironically enough, mirrors Friedkin’s preferred faux-vérité aesthetic.
— Budd Wilkins (Slant)
To watch The French Connection now is to experience the shock of the old: a lost world of the city, and a lost style of film-making. […] When Popeye gets back to the station house, he drops the N bomb. The modern audience nervously asks itself: where is the black police chief to balance this? The black judge? Or maybe a black cop whose tough integrity and professionalism Doyle can come, finally, apologetically, to respect? Nowhere. [And] the final moments of The French Connection are a powerful, even magnificent repudiation of the modern piety of redemption and sympathy. It is a stunningly nihilist ending, one to set alongside Polanski's Chinatown.
— Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)