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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
He's supposed to be the leading authority in freelance surveillance,
but from the start there are hints that while he's good, he's also
careless. While his apartment is locked, his landlord leaves him a
Happy Birthday present. His mistress, Amy (Teri Garr in a small role)
tells him she saw him standing in the staircase for an entire hour. He
invites a rival co-worker to his office (which seems to be a warehouse)
with several other people and carelessly allows the man to record his
own conversation by means of what looks to be an innocuous pen which
wouldn't be out of place in any James Bond movie. And his liaison with
a call girl he meets at that party results in her stealing the tapes of
a conversation he has recorded and that has lately been the focus of
This is Harry Caul, a loner who is a little too glum to be good company and takes his work seriously. Maybe too seriously -- which eventually proves to be his downfall. The fact that his own co-worker Stan (John Cazale) leaves him to go work for a rival agency, Moran, only serves to prove Harry is really someone who is so much a loner he drives anyone away from him. He can't seem to have any form of relationship -- it's only time when Amy will also leave him as she seems somewhat frustrated by this wall of privacy he's built around himself. His entire life revolves around secrecy, and he only is able to live vicariously throughout others, even if he himself feels guilty about it and would deny it because to top it all, he has a strong religious streak, and discloses under confession that he was witness of a surveillance gone wrong and which resulted in the deaths of three people. Now this assignment has him worried: he's listened to a conversation between a man and a woman and is afraid the woman's husband may try to kill them both.
But is this what he's heard, or has been misinterpreted due to the limitations and distortions of sound? Like 1966's BLOW UP, which dealt with what the human eye is capable of discerning through the mechanism of a camera and what happens when one zooms in, THE CONVERSATION deals with the manipulation of sound to make out a sentence that lies just underneath the sounds of the city. But while that elusive sentence comes through -- "he's kill us if he had the chance" -- what Harry fails to catch is the intonation itself, which would have radically altered his deduction and completely shifted his attention. Like the definition of the word "caul", Harry is unable to see (or hear) the reality, or that he's been a victim of his own occupation by the end of the film; by making himself visible to whom he thinks was in danger, he's now made himself the target of surveillance by the same agency who employed him as he receives that disturbing call at the end: "We'll be listening to you." Whether it be real or not, one shot implies it is: a panning shot to the right, then to the left, from an elevated angle, showing us the destruction of Harry's apartment through his own hands as he has fruitlessly tries to debug his place. It's the tell-tale pan of a surveillance camera, which he has failed to discover. Again.
This is most definitely not an action-packed thriller, but one that is totally cerebral -- it forces you to pay attention, to listen, to heighten your senses and discover for yourself what Harry is trying to find even when we know he will be wrong all along. Even as he seems to teeter over madness near the end as his grisly discovery of blood pouring out of a toilet bowl at the Jack Tarr Hotel indicates, we still wonder if he's actually seeing this, or not. Like BLOW UP, this is one of those mysteries that doesn't look to get solved cleanly, but by being inconclusive, lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled, and in the process, leaves one man destroyed.
'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.
"The Conversation" is a really great movie. I was quite surprised when I saw it. Not at how good it was, but how few people have seen it or heard of it. This is a classic suspense thriller, and a terrifying psychological horror film! From the opening credits, I, like the characters, was unsure of where I was going, or what the opening conversation (which is what the entire film is built around) might lead to. It seemed so unusually powerful, despite its masterfully simplistic execution. There is no overkill or excess in this film, nor is it under written or underplayed. It's just perfect! And I was even more surprised at how little was shown, and how much it could engross or frighten the hell out of me! My heart was racing, even though there was little action! This is the kind of film Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to direct. The direction went to another master instead, Francis Ford Coppola. I felt ahead of the movie at its opening credits. But then, it blasted me and got miles ahead of me. It is an attack on our psyche and our fear, and it's amazing how, like the film itself, the conversation in the film that seemed so small and irrational could lead to something as big as it did!
Enigmatic, frustrating, confusing, intelligent and overall extremely brilliant work by writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (Oscar-nominated for his screenplay) has surveillance expert Gene Hackman recording a conversation between Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest. It immediately appears that the duo are having an affair behind Williams' very wealthy husband's (a cameo by Robert Duvall) back. However nothing is quite as cut and dry as it seems. Hackman, a devout Catholic, has a bout of conscience as he worries that Duvall might have deviant plans for his wife and her apparent lover. Apparently Hackman's work had meant the lives of some he had spied on many years earlier in New York and he is shown as a quiet man who has some loud personal demons within his soul. The suspense builds when Hackman is followed by Duvall's shady employee (Harrison Ford) and eventually the heat rises to a boil as all the very loose ends are tied together in a wickedly twisted final act. "The Conversation" was Coppola's other film from 1974 (remember Best Picture Oscar winner "The Godfather, Part II"?). With this movie, Coppola created arguably the two best films of that dominant cinematic campaign (of course Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" would have something to say about that). Hackman delivers a deceptively difficult and dark performance as a man who seems to be self-destructing slowly on the inside out. By the end "The Conversation" is a thought-provoking product that will chill you to the bone with its cold elements. 5 stars out of 5.
The Conversation is a quiet film that slowly builds on the central theme of paranoia. Gene Hackman is hired to record a conversation between two people. As Hackman pieces the dialouge together, we get to hear more and more of what's being said. Only thing is, we don't know exactly what is being referred to. Hackman seems to have an idea, as does the audience. As he starts to realize what's at stake, Hackman starts to develop a feeling of regret and refuses to hand over the tapes to the "director." Along the way, we see just how alone Gene Hackman's character is. His only solace in life is playing the saxaphone along with jazz records. He values his privacy and has trouble connecting with people, even members of his own team. Francis Ford Coppola keeps the story moving and lets it build naturally. He gives us glimpses into Hackman's mind as he "thinks" he knows what's going to happen to the people he recorded. The only way to see what happens in the end is to watch this quiet masterpiece. To tell about the ending would ruin the fun, not to mention the suspence of this understated thriller.
Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 classic is an ingenious, meticulous
examination into the nature of voyeurism, as well as a harsh criticism
of the deceitful morality of privacy. At its basic form, however, The
Conversation is a film that carefully follows a man who is curiously
trapped within his own secretive existence of solitude. Harry Caul is
nothing more than an observer; we do not witness any noticeable
personal interests outside of his profession, aside from his occasional
musical performances. But notice how Harry is always playing along to
another band (contrast this to the solo at the ending), and never
performs for an audience. There is no audience for Harry, a man who is
entirely absorbed within his occupation, and allows his neurotic
obsession to control his personal relationships. Harry treats himself
like he treats his clients, he divulges no personal information,
displays no easily distinguishable characteristics, and remains
blissful in his peaceful state of ignorance. Whenever he is not
entirely engulfed within his work, Harry disappears into his apartment,
satisfied with his general indifference towards any truly beneficial,
active existence. Harry has thoroughly convinced himself that it is
inappropriate to become involved in his client's affairs. After all,
Harry's job is not to take responsibility for himself, or to
investigate any potential consequences resulting from his surveillance
intrusions. Harry's job is to take orders, display no personal interest
in the content of his recordings, and deliver the results completely
unconcerned for anyone's potential safety or security. It is only after
Harry accepts his need to take responsibility that he is able to take
interest in his client's mysterious, dangerous affairs.
As Harry slowly drags himself into the precarious business of strangers, the film's intentions become increasingly suspenseful and perplexing. Coppola maintains his deliberately methodical pace throughout the entire film; it is only through our imagination that we are capable of creating and perpetuating such a consistently fascinating atmosphere surrounded by a cloud of tension and mystique. The Assistant Director never physically carries himself as an intimidating antagonist; it is through the complexity of the film's plot and through the continual uncertain environment that we are able to associate this element with his character. Every person that carries himself in a convincingly dubious manner immediately becomes a potential suspect. Harry becomes compulsively obsessed with the fate of his client's targets, completely submerging himself into the substance of the recordings, looking for any potential details that might assist him in solving the mystery. Harry's investigation quickly becomes our task as well, as we begin to subconsciously observe and scrutinize each character involved. The beauty of Coppola's film is the fact that it makes its point by using the audience as proof of the inherent devious nature of privacy. The movie transports us into Harry's world, as we become infatuated with the secretive plot unfolding before us, and we desperately search for clues into the lives of the film's characters. Of course, after intense investigation, Harry ultimately comes to realize that he has violated all of the principles that he had once stood proudly for. Whether or not Harry ended up better off by becoming involved in the dealings of others is a completely subjective matter, but it is a crucial question that the viewer must ask him/herself.
The ending of the film is what interested me the most about The Conversation. The consequences of Harry's obsession become manifest through the destruction of his own privacy, his property and even his faith. Was Harry morally appropriate when he decided to intervene into the relationship and associations of complete strangers? Did Harry do the right thing by taking responsibility for his actions, and reaching out to help another in desperate need? These are the most important questions that the film ultimately asks its audience. The final shots of Harry perfectly capture the ambiguous mood of the film's finale. Harry is sitting alone in his stripped down apartment looking exhausted, humiliated, and defeated. But if you look closely you will realize that he is indeed playing the saxophone to his own beat, for a change. At what costs do we accept the need for our responsibility to others?
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.
The Conversation is a stark look into the modern art of surveillance and its
affect on one of its practitioners. Harry Caul (Hackman) is at the top of
his business, but he's disturbed. Highly paranoiac, he is troubled by bad
things that happened to some innocent people as a result of a prior
surveillance job. Now he's afraid it's happening again....
The Conversation could not be more antithetical of the current movie making style. Stark, claustrophobic, unsexy, slow-paced, and with almost no soundtrack, it slowly builds to its dramatic noirish denouement.
A real treat, and as an added attraction the actors include a young Cindy Williams, Terri Garr, John Cazale, and Harrison Ford. Worth the rental unless anything outside of the MTV mould causes agitation.
Harry Caul: `I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of
Two weeks ago I wrote a review of `The Silence of the Lambs' I said I thought that it was one of the greatest suspense films of all time. Well Francis Ford Coppola's ingenious and frightening film isn't one of the best suspense films of all time; it simply is the greatest suspense film of all time. It follows professional ease dropper Harry Caul's job on a conversation that goes way beyond anything that he ever could expect. This film is truly something else in its own right. Coppola is such a master, such a brilliant mind. This film is him at his best, after `The Godfather' and before part two. He makes this film so brilliantly and so knowing of what emotions the audience will feel, every pause and every silence is direct and timed. The film is completely intentional. It is constructed off of films like Michelangelo Antonioni's `Blow-up' or most Hitchcock films. Coppola takes these aspects brought by most of the great filmmakers and takes them to a whole new level of personal texture. He puts so much more into it. Making him (I can't say this enough) one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and most misunderstood. His films are like pie, they look good, they taste good, heck they even smell good, but you never really know what they are made of. All his films are deeper then they seem, it takes a true (TRUE!) film lover to respect what influences the man has made. Look at it like this, the greatest Hollywood film of all time, `The Godfather,' the greatest War film of all time `Apocalypse Now,' The greatest Sequel of all time `The Godfather Part II,' and the greatest Independent/Suspense film of all time `The Conversation.' What else is there to conquer? Science Fiction? His next film `Megalopolis' will tackle that void. Who cares about his slips, he has made some of the greatest films of all time.
In this film his talent is at its best with an involving, brilliantly executed screenplay and flawless direction. He makes cookies into Danish, if any other man ever made this film it would be good no doubt, but the greatest suspense film of all time? I think not. Harry Caul's (Hackman) character is so deep and so magnified. He is such a character's character; this film is a pure and simple character study. Not to mention the flawless cinematography and music. The little jazz piano riff fits the film perfectly and the cinematography is so mechanical like a piece of surveillance equipment. The dialogue in the first few minutes is so perfectly written it makes the viewer cringe wanting to know what it is the couple is saying so when we find out it is more of a gift. The conversation that the film is based on is set up so well all threw out the film, the more we hear the more we think, it is repetition at its perfection. The repetition is a true part of the film, the more the viewer hears something they ask themselves why am I hearing this again, what does it mean? Then the conversation tears at the viewer until they fall apart, just like Harry. The viewer understands his motivations, they see his reasons. We are set up and moved around this maze of murder and mayhem, we are Harry (J). This is just one of many brilliant aspects of the film. It never dives down or falls off it always stays paranoid like the main character. `The Conversation' is a haunting and well constructed masterpiece that molds great acting with brilliant storytelling. This is what films in this day and age should try to do. But they won't, they never will, and `The Conversation' will hold its ground as the most thoughtful and suspenseful film of all time.
Mark: He'd kill us if he got the chance.
To me The Conversation is one of most underrated movies ever. The movie
carries on so quietly throughout that the suspense of the movie keeps
on building up to one of the best endings in movie history.
The directing of this film was among one of the best I have ever seen. Coppola is able to craft his way through another one of his classics. The movie is just perfectly edited together and is so gripping throughout. His directing really takes the audiene to another world that most to almost all of us do not know about. That world is the world of security surveillance and spies. This though is not an ordinary spy movie, it is a very realistic psychological portrayal and the affects of knowing the real truth. Instead of this movie becoming a complete flop it becomes better and better as it carries on. Along with the cinematography and music he makes the audience feel how remote and controlled our society is. Coppola did not just show it he gave you the actual feeling of it. Coppola deserves much of the credit for this.
The writing was very good too. Once again Coppola uses his writing to keep the audience very much engaged into the movie. The writing in this movie ranks up their with his other screenplays such as The Godfather series, Apocalypse Now and Patton.
The acting was a bit of surprise to me. It was better than I expected. This film convinced me that Gene Hackman is prime talent. He is not just a man who plays the man always involved in a shouting match but in fact he is a versatile actor who has really limited himself rather than his abilities limiting him. He was perfect for this movie. The supporting cast was great as well. Robert Duvall who always gives the best cameos was good in here too. Harrison Ford who I wish actually had some more screen time was very convincing as a manipulative high ranking executive.
The ending in this movie to me is one of the best ever. It shows how or fears can consume us and alter our live. It displays how if our fears consume us we lose the feeling of life itself. That is at least my take of it. This is Coppola's hidden masterpiece that should be seen by all. It will definitely make you think.
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