Harry Caul is a devout Catholic and a lover of jazz music who plays his saxophone while listening to his jazz records. He is a San Francisco-based electronic surveillance expert who owns and operates his own small surveillance business. He is renowned within the profession as being the best, one who designs and constructs his own surveillance equipment. He is an intensely private and solitary man in both his personal and professional life, which especially irks Stan, his business associate who often feels shut out of what is happening with their work. This privacy, which includes not letting anyone into his apartment and always telephoning his clients from pay phones is, in part, intended to control what happens around him. His and Stan's latest job (a difficult one) is to record the private discussion of a young couple meeting in crowded and noisy Union Square. The arrangement with his client, known only to him as "the director", is to provide the audio recording of the discussion ... Written by
Francis Ford Coppola has cited Blow-Up (1966) as a key influence on his conceptualization of the film's themes, such as surveillance versus participation, and perception versus reality. See more »
Presumably, the "conversation" was recorded over the noon hour. In the opening shot, the shadows are much too long for mid-day, even in winter. See more »
Well, I want to go over to my place and start, you know, getting it on...
Oh, that's terrible.
Yeah. Do you ever, uh... ballet?
Be thankful. Do you have a quarter for them?
Yes, I do.
[gives it to street band]
What about me?
A lot of fun you are. You're supposed to tease me, give hints, make me guess, you know.
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This is one of those films I'm glad I gave a second chance because it got much better, and has continued getting better with each viewing (I've now seen it four times).
I know a few other people who watch this and ask, "What's the big deal?" Well, do what I did and give it another chance. Here's a tip: put on the English subtitles. It helps understand what is going on, as the taped conversations are often difficult to discern. Then, you might discover what I did: a fascinating character study, one that did not bore me as it had on the first viewing.
It's the study of a paranoid loner who is suffering a guilty conscience over the work he has done over the years, and what tragic consequences could happen with the latest project he's involved with. Without giving anything away, the loner's fears are realized in a shocking ending, but not in the way he imagined.
Gene Hackman, as always, does a super job of acting. He dominates the film as the main character, "Harry Caul." The topic matter - high-tech surveillance - was intriguing, too. After watching this film, I wondered what kind of surveillance tools are available now, 30 years after this film was made.
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