Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Conversation

Movie Name: The Conversation
Year of Release: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Teri Garr, Robert Duvall, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth MacRae, Mark Wheeler, Robert Shields
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8 

Synopsis and Review:
Following the immense (and justly so) commercial and critical success of "The Godfather", Francis Coppola tackled two films back to back, which would turn out to be just as successful. The first one of them, "The Conversation", premiered firstly in April of 1974, and won the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival of that year. "The Conversation" follows the story of Harry Caul, a man in his early 40s, who makes a living as a surveillance expert. He owns and runs his business, employs a few associates with him depending on the projects he tackles. He lives a solitary existence, is a devout catholic, and has very few emotional ties with anyone. He and his team are tasked with keeping track of a couple who is meeting in a busy area of San Francisco, in order to record their conversation and report back. When the original contractor of the service is unavailable, Harry decides against surrendering his tapes to one of his associates. As he further listens to the tape, fears and anxieties pertaining to previous jobs he has taken, which had unfortunate outcomes, haunt him, and worry him about the outcomes of this situation. He decides to further investigate the whole situation.
Francis Coppola managed to have one of the most celebrated and accomplished decades of any director in history. In the 70s he successfully directed "The Godfather I and II", "The Conversation" and the towering "Apocalypse Now". Of all these films, "The Conversation" may be the smallest in scope/canvas, since it mostly focuses on Harry Caul, the almost asocial center of the narrative. Coppola smartly introduces us to Harry, to his habits, and his deep commitment to what he does. We become ingrained in who this person is, and as the ghosts of his past come tumbling into the present, we also witness his despair in realizing that what he captured, may result in tragedy, yet again. It's a film that mixes a deft character study, with the conspiracy thriller, which was a trend in the 70s (one can remember Alan J. Pakula's "The Parallax View" & "All the President's Men", Sydney Pollack's "3 Days of the Condor" and even John Schlessinger's "Marathon Man"), but does so without falling into the traps of the typical studio movie. Harry doesn't get a love interest, or for that matter a way out. He's a prisoner of the life he built for himself. It's a great film, one that could have benefited from the expansion of a few supporting characters, but nonetheless powerful and filled with impact. Gene Hackman is phenomenal in the role, and gets good support from John Cazale and Harrison Ford. The cinematography from Bill Butler is wonderful, as is the score from David Shire. A classic always worth revisiting.