The Conversation (1974)
Critic Consensus: This tense, paranoid thriller presents Francis Ford Coppola at his finest -- and makes some remarkably advanced arguments about technology's role in society that still resonate today.
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as Harry Caul
as The Director
as The Mime
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Critic Reviews for The Conversation
A major artistic asset to the film -- besides script, direction and the top performances -- is supervising editor Walter Murch's sound collage and re-recording.
Coppola manages to turn an expert thriller into a portrayal of the conflict between ritual and responsibility without ever letting the levels of tension subside or the complicated plot get muddled.
Haunting and bothersome.
A film OF the 1970s, The Conversation is rooted in the new American anxiety of the time, the idea that behind every ideal was a rotten, festering truth.
Audience Reviews for The Conversation
A sophisticated and taut narrative in which Coppola does with sound what Antonioni had done with image in his Blowup, following a paranoid man unable to open up to anybody and trying desperately to put the pieces together of something that he cannot understand.
Between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola made a film developed from an idea he had almost a decade earlier. Ironically, the main idea behind the film (tape recording) would be the focal point of one of the worst scandals in American history that was going down as this film was being produced and released.
The Conversation is about surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who is a legend in his field, but has skeletons in his closet. Supported by his assistant Stan (the always great John Cazale) Harry has been hired to record and report on a couple (Cindy Williams and Fredrick Forrest) by a man only known as The Director (Robert Duvall). As the job progresses Harry begins to worry about what the consequences of the information he's about to deliver will have on the parties lives based on an incident from his past that still haunts him.
Hackman plays Caul as a very low key individual that doesn't want any attention, yet is the center of attention in his little world of watching and listening. He's an anxious little man that knows his business and understands who to operate his personal life to keep it out of his work life. Hackman had hit it big by this point and The Conversation really is a change of pace compared to some of hos other work, mainly looking at The French Connection.
The other surprising standout in the film is Harrison Ford as Martin Stett, the threatening thug like individual that is the barrier between the world and The Director. Ford's performance is very confrontational, but he doesn't really do anything to give you a reason to fear him. It's all in your head.
The main theme of The Conversation is paranoia. The thing is that the paranoia belongs to Harry Caul. He's the one that's watching people, but he's the most fearful in the film. From the early moments of the movie you see how Harry dictates his entire life to maintain his privacy and you get to the point that you wonder if maybe some of this fear is in his head, held up by Harry having some delusions leading him to fear that history was going to repeat itself.
Where the two Godfather films were expansive films traveling over thousands of miles and involving decades. they're open and airy and give you plenty of room to breathe. The Conversation is the opposite. It's a claustrophobic film that has you breathing heavy from the fear of what's closing in on us. The stinger on all of this is that even though there is no one nearby, you are being held close with the technology that lets you see and hear from elsewhere, which ironically has become even more prevalent forty years later with our advances in tech. The film itself serves as another Coppola classic from his prime era in the 1970's It's a great film that kind of gets pushed away due to the Godfather films. 70's grit at its finest, almost symbolizing the greatness of the cinema of the era.
Without a doubt Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece has to be "The Conversation" not just because of its concrete, magnificent plot, or the immaculately crafted twist, or the stellar performances, but also for the look and the immensity of how this film is designed and shot. From beginning to end Coppola threads through significant character development and intrigue in order to keep us guessing throughout this tightly paced thriller. Hackman is pathetically eccentric and complex in his role as Harry Caul, as he is both occupied with his work, and also soon becomes enraptured with the moral aspects in the choices he has to make. The opening scene is magnificent in its scale as well as scope, and that level of artistry stays present throughout the rest of the film. There's an aspect of moral outrage, as well as a seat of the pants thrill that only seventies Coppola can supply. Altogether this masterpiece has been heralded for its intensity and for its manic thrill, all the more interesting in today's America, intent on keeping the government away from surveillance.
The Conversation Quotes
|Harry Caul:||[upset, walking over to Martin seated] What are you doing here?|
|Martin Stett:||Take it easy I'm just a messenger. I brought you a drink|
|Harry Caul:||I don't want your drink. Why are you following me?|
|Martin Stett:||I'm not following you I'm looking for you. There's a big difference.|
|Stanley:||What a STUPID conversation.|
|Mark:||He'd kill us if he got the chance.|
|Harry Caul:||I'm not afraid of death... I am afraid of murder.|
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