Movie #97: The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford.

Academy Award Nominations (1975):

Best Picture: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Sound: Walter Murch, Art Rochester

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola

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” We’ll be listening to you.”

Harry Caul (Hackman) is an electronic surveillance expert who owns a small surveillance company and is regarded by his peers as the best of the best.  On his current assignment Caul records Mark (Forrest) and Ann’s (Williams) conversation as they walk through Union Square in San Francisco.   As he deciphers and constructs the conversation, Caul realizes that the couple he’s surveilling may be in danger, and he becomes reluctant to hand over the tapes to The Director (Duvall) and his assistant Martin Stett (Ford).  Caul is an incredibly paranoid, reclusive loner, even to Stan (Cazale), his business partner.  His number is unlisted, he calls his clients from a pay phone, and seems to have very few connections outside of the surveillance industry.

It’s interesting to me how forty years after this film was released, it still seems relevant.  While the technology used in The Conversation has been outdated for quite some time, the thought that someone could be listening in on your conversation at any given time isn’t all that big of a stretch.  This film is a true gem for Francis Ford Coppola, though it is overlooked since it was released eight months before Coppola’s other hit film from 1974, The Godfather: Part II.

Gene Hackman was phenomenal as Harry Caul.  He portrays the technological knowledge needed for a guy in his field, battles with his own paranoid demons, and paces the film well as his crisis of conscience unfolds.  His interactions with Stand demonstrate paranoia and general mistrust of others.  This was the last of Cazale’s films for me to see, and though I don’t remember much of his performance in The Deer Hunter, it’s one I’m looking forward to revisiting at some point.  Hackman’s performance is balanced and complemented by Coppola’s script.  Additionally, the background sound used throughout kept my attention as I wondered at times what would happen next.

The sound quality of this film wasn’t the greatest, granted it’s from the 70s, but I found myself paying particular attention and my own heart rate speeding up as the various piano sequences played in the background.  Though I don’t really like sudden shocking moments in a film, here it worked for me.  The suspense throughout the film helped me enjoy the movie more.

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Harrison Ford’s performance was a bit of a surprise for me.  This was one of his first big roles, and I think he nailed it as the cold, intimidating at times, assistant.  He definitely made the most of his screen time, and the conversation he had with Harry at the end of the film was creepy, but at the same time demonstrating a central theme of the film in that someone is always listening.

theconversationlistening couple  Another thing that was interesting to me was the repetition of the original conversation throughout the film.  Though I thought it would get horribly repetitive and annoying, the way the conversation and overall story unfolded, it really didn’t bother me.

 

 

 

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Though the equipment and technology used in The Conversation has become incredibly outdated, the central themes of the film are still very relevant in today’s society.  Hackman delivers an incredible performance, one he essentially reprised in the 1998 film Enemy of the State, and does a great job of portraying a man who realizes his work has real, tangible consequences and copes with the crisis of conscience that follows.  It’s not one I’ll go out of my way to see again probably, but it’s one I would recommend seeing at least once.

My Recommendation: Rental/Netflix

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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