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
Harrison Ford's part was initially intended to be a small cameo, written as little more than an office assistant. Feeling that the character was one-dimensional, Ford decided to play him as gay, a risky choice in 1974, and personally purchased the loud green silk suit for $900 ($4,284.99 in 2015 dollars). Francis Ford Coppola was at first shocked by the outfit at rehearsals but, after discussing it with Ford, was so impressed with this interpretation that he expanded the role into a supporting character, gave the character a name (Martin Stett) and had production designer Dean Tavoularis create an office that reflected the character's orientation. 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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'The Conversation' sadly doesn't get mentioned as much as Coppola's other (more flamboyant) seventies movies ('The Godfather' parts one and two, 'Apocalypse Now'), even though it as good as, if not better than the aforementioned. In fact if someone argued that this was his greatest achievement as a director, I would be hard pressed to disagree.
'The Conversation' bears many similarities to Antonioni's 'Blowup', another superb movie that requires multiple viewings to really appreciate. Both movies are very much of their time, and therefore 'The Conversation' is fuelled by the keywords of the decade it was made in - paranoia and deceit. The other main difference between the two movies it that 'The Conversation' is not only a head trip but also a taut and suspenseful thriller. Post Simpson/Bruckheimer audiences may not have the attention spans to appreciate it, but that is their failing, not this movie's.
Gene Hackman gives one of the finest performances of his career here as the complex and troubled surveillance expert Harry Caul, one that is possibly rivaled only by his too little seen gem 'Scarecrow'. And the supporting cast is first rate, and includes the late John Cazale, a favourite of Coppola's, Harrison Ford, Frederick Forrest, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, and (an uncredited) Robert Duvall. Last but not least a superb turn from the underrated Allen Garfield, an actor who has appeared in many odd movies, from 'Get To Know Your Rabbit' to 'Destiny Turns On The Radio'. He is dynamite here, in a role originally intended for the legendary Timothy Carey, as a pushy rival bugging expert.
'The Conversation' is hypnotic, multi-layered and haunting. See it whatever you do.
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