Saturday, February 15, 2014

579. The Conversation (1974)

Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola
Main Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest
Click here to view the trailer


You know, I was thinking, I really need to watch the other four Dirty Harry movies, the other two "Mad Max" movies and "The French Connection II" NOW, while I still have the originals in my head. It's not that I'm dying to see them, because I'm sure the originals hold up better, it's just that it would be nice to be able to say I've seen them. Anyway, that was my random thought of the day and now we move on to my first Francis Ford Coppola film from THE BOOK - "The Conversation".

Let's see, let's see, where to begin....The film open with a shot of a public square, in San Francisco. You know the type, the place where people go for lunch, where street performers hone their craft and where couples sit around the fountain and make lovey dovey. It is revealed that we're meant to be focusing on a certain couple (Williams and Forrest), who are under surveillance via Harry Caul (Hackman) and his team, which consists of Stan (Cazale) and another man. Harry Caul is the best bug man on the West Coast, or so say the people in the business of bugs. Harry makes it a point not to get involved in the conversations that he records, thus being one of the more professional surveillance men in the biz. Once the conversation between the couple is through, Harry makes the tapes, with the intention of delivering them to "the Director", the man who hired Harry. When Harry goes to deliver the tapes, however, the Director is out of the office and the assistant to the Director offers to take the tapes and pay Harry. Harry, being the professional, refuses to hand over the tapes to anyone but the Director and thus decides to leave. Before leaving, he is warned that keeping the tapes could put him in danger. Upon leaving the building, Harry notices the couple that he's just bugged around the office, realizing that they work there. This leads Harry to take a closer listen to the tapes, realizing that the couple are being targeted for murder. A particular line in the conversation tips him off - "He'd kill us if he got the chance". This puts Harry into a question of integrity: does he stay out of his clients business or does he interject himself and try saving the couple? Along the way, Harry (a very private man) is bugged himself.

This was a situation where I went into the film dying to see it and expecting to love it, but having this odd feeling that I'd be disappointed by it. Well, it turns out, I wasn't disappointed and actually really liked this movie. This is another one (like "The French Connection") where I have to ask the question: "What's not to like?". You've got Gene Hackman, whom I personally love, as he always brings the goods and knows when to be intense and when not to be. In "The Conversation" we see a very reserved, very subtle performance by Hackman, where rarely a raised voice comes into play. Hackman knows just what he's doing, with all the control and intricacy as the surveillance man he's portraying. The thing I really admire about Hackman here, is that there is absolutely ZERO trace of Popeye Doyle, proving that Hackman knows how to be a different man on each and every set he graces. The character is probably one that you could write a thesis on and I loved him. THE BOOK makes note of his comfort level in listening to conversations from hundreds of yards away, comparing it to his comfort level while in a room with his friends and how different they are. You've got a man that I can really, kind of, relate to, as I'm also a very private person who doesn't really do well with others. I mean, I get by and I'm not as bad as Harry, but I think I'd be more comfortable watching from afar, than interacting face to face - I know I would.


You've also got a plot that's easily followable, intense, interesting and just plain great. Okay, so maybe it's just me, but I've always been fascinated with voyeurism (not that I'd participate in it - I'm no peeping Tom!) and surveillance stuff and that's what this movie revolves around. I just love that this entire film relies so heavily on one, five minute exchange between Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest and that the whole twist of the entire picture relies on the emphasis of ONE WORD!! That's insane, yet it all makes sense and in the end, we're left with that "OH SHIT!" moment, just like Harry.

I may rate it a few notches below a '10' today, but I think when I think back on this movie it's really going to dawn on me just how perfect it was. And what about that score - brilliance! It was just perfect and honestly, the combination of that music coupled with this film, makes it the best composition I've heard in quite sometime. It portrays the eeriness of being watched, coupled with the paranoia and guilt of our main character and it just suits the film so well. Have a listen. I think whenever I hear that piece, all of the details of this film are going to come flooding back: Hackman's master class performance, the beauty of the camerawork, the near flawlessness of Coppola's writing & direction and the way the plot perfectly appealed to me.

RATING: 8/10  I think I liked "The French Connection" more, which is why I just can't go higher, but what a way to kick off this season. Now that I've watched a couple of heavy hitters, expect a few rarities in the days to come.


February 15, 2014  12:53pm


  1. Odd this..

    Sometimes I can ramble on a bit in my replies..

    Sometimes I cannot think of something meaningful to say to add to what you have said.. even if I'm agreeing with you.

    So sorry, boring reply, but pretty much yes to all you said.

    1. So we're 3 in to this 100 and I think we've pretty much agreed on everything thus far. We're doing good.


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