Conversation, The (1974)

 Arguably Coppola’s most important and still relevant film to date.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
1974 | USA | Drama/Mystery | 113 mins | 1.37:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some mature themes

Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield
Plot: A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention (Cannes); Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 29 Mar 2009
Spoilers: No


The most personal of Francis Ford Coppola’s works, The Conversation was made in between two legendary epics The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974).  

In a way representing a breather for Coppola, The Conversation has over the years built a solid group of appreciators.  The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes and is considered by film historians to be one of the best American pictures of the 1970s.

The film stars Gene Hackman in an exceptional performance in the leading role as Harry Caul, an expert surveillance man who has a passionate affection for the saxophone and jazz music.  

He often cuts a lonely figure, is inexpressive at love, and has few friends. His job demands discipline, patience and stealth – attributes he have in abundance.  

One day, a routine wire-tapping job becomes more than an intrusion to privacy; he stumbles across a potential murder plan after hearing something disturbing in his recordings.

Harry Caul has always stuck by his moral code: Listen and record.  Don’t get involved.  But haunted by his past in which he was indirectly responsible for the brutal murder of a family, he finds himself unable to just simply do his job.  

“Does it bother you?”
“What?”
“Walking around in circles.”

Thinking he can atone for his sins in an already sinful job by attempting to disrupt a possible murder, Caul becomes dragged into a labyrinth of secrecy, and discovers that not only his privacy is threatened; his life may be at stake too. 

With The Conversation, Coppola has old-fashioned a provocative mystery-drama that questions the morality of privacy and the ethics of spying.  And he does this with confident direction and a well-written script that offers few revelations, leaving viewers in the same maze that Caul finds himself lost in.  

Most parts of the film move slowly, focusing on character development rather than the story.  I admit that I had to struggle through some parts. 

However, the final quarter of the film shows the artistry of Coppola’s filmmaking; he incorporates elements of surrealism and shock cuts to bring about nightmarish scenarios that could either be real or are only figments of imagination by Caul.

The Conversation is sometimes considered Coppola’s finest work despite having made The Godfather and Apocalypse Now (1979).  Although not a masterpiece, The Conversation remains to be his most important and relevant film to date.

Grade: A


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