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The Conversation


Year of release

Directed by
Francis Ford Coppola

Written by
Francis Ford Coppola

Gene Hackman
John Cazele
Allen Garfield
Cindy Williams
Frederick Forrest
Harrison Ford

The Conversation


A slow burning, taut and intriguing film dealing with the world of surveillance. It's a film that just screams of the 70s! Throughout my little 70s thriller season there have been frequent themes and issues that keep cropping up - paranoia, anti-establishment sentiments, conspiracies, technology invading our lives, alienation of the individual, evaporation of civil liberties etc - and this film features a great deal of them. Compared to much of his other work from the era (The Godfather parts 1 and 2 and Apocalypse Now) this is a much more intimate tale told on a smaller scale.

While the almost stone-age technology badly dates the film it does not dilute its power. Though personally I felt it was a little too slow, that it could have done with a little trimming to get us to the meat of the film a touch quicker. I felt it had done such a good job setting up the story and moulding the character of Harry Caul that it could have lost a little and still worked just as effectively.

As is just about a given for him at that stage in his career Hackman turns in a truly terrific showing as Harry Caul; the lonely, detached and extremely paranoid bugger who really is quite a sad, pitiful fellow. He gives us a real character study of a man obsessed with his privacy and incapable of trusting anyone. A man haunted by an incident in his past, an incident that begins to expose an emerging conscience as the film goes along.

The sound work on the film deserves a big mention. It is a marvellous mix of taped conversations, hushed voices, ambient sounds and distorted electronic noises. It's also an essay on the fact it's not what you say, it's how you say it. What we hear is ambiguous, and remains so till the end, and is all about the interpretation of it. The fact that it all reveals itself just a little bit at a time is a real treat. We are learning at the same time as Harry is.

The strongest section of the film for me was the ending. You have Hackman obsessing over what he should do and there is a shocking twist that really threw me for a loop, and sends Hackman over the edge as his paranoia finally overwhelms him. As a result we watch as he destroys his apartment looking for surveillance footage.

On a technical level it is a brilliant accomplishment, and if I was rating it purely on that standard it would undoubtedly get a higher rating. However as I've said before my scores are heavily influenced by my sheer enjoyment of a film, that gut feeling that reallly makes you take to a film, even if you can't particularly describe why. So as a result I'd say 3.5+ is about right, perhaps a 4 on the right day and a repeat viewing