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The Conversation (1974)

Cast: Gene Hackman, Gene Hackman, John Cazale, more...
Director: Francis Ford Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola
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Studio: Lionsgate
Genre: Drama, Suspense/Thriller, Crime
Running Time: 113 min.
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English
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Made between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), and in part an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's art-movie classic Blow-Up (1966), The Conversation was a return to small-scale art films for Francis Ford Coppola. Sound surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is hired to track a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), taping their conversation as they walk through San Francisco's crowded Union Square. Knowing full well how technology can invade privacy, Harry obsessively keeps to himself, separating business from his personal life, even refusing to discuss what he does or where he lives with his girlfriend, Amy (Teri Garr). Harry's work starts to trouble him, however, as he comes to believe that the conversation he pieced together reveals a plot by the mysterious corporate "Director" who hired him to murder the couple. After he allows himself to be seduced by a call girl, who then steals the tapes, Harry is all the more convinced that a killing will occur, and he can no longer separate his job from his conscience. Coppola, cinematographer Bill Butler, and Oscar-nominated sound editor Walter Murch convey the narrative through Harry's aural and visual experience, beginning with the slow opening zoom of Union Square accompanied by the alternately muddled and clear sound of the couple's conversation caught by Harry's microphones. The Godfather Part II and The Conversation earned Coppola a rare pair of Oscar nominations for Best Picture, as well as two nominations for Best Screenplay (The Godfather Part II won both). Praised by critics, The Conversation was not a popular hit, but it has since come to be seen as one of the artistic high points of the decade, as well as of Coppola's career. Its atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, combined with its obsessive loner antihero, made it prototypical of the darker "American art movies" of the early '70s, as its audiotape storyline also made it seem eerily appropriate for the era of the Watergate scandal. ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

a character study by alexjb October 12, 2006 - 10:18 PM PDT
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
it's not a spy movie, not a con movie, not an action film, not a whodunit. those things are in it, but are secondary. the techie stuff is fun, but way outdated; the SF backdrop is interesting if you live here (they were surprisingly realistic in their location continuity), but it doesn't actually matter to the film, and there's very little in the way of taking advantage of the city.

it's a character study. a study of someone who's incredibly repressed, a total control freak. his entire identity is based on the fact that noone knows him, and yet he can learn things about other people. when the demons of his past come back to him, he begins to unravel, but slowly, privately.

hackman's performance is great, which is good because this is film is tight, with very little else going on and no other characters that are more than supporting. if you stay as focused on hackman and what his character is going through, there's a lot to be appreciated about The Conversation.

oh, and i agree that the commentary is worthwhile - coppola explains the connection (in his brain) to BlowUp, as well as filling in background on the characters, plot development and logistics.

Blow out is an audiophile?s homage to Blowup not The Conversation by exjosh February 23, 2005 - 11:49 AM PST
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful
This is no simple homage to Blowup. In Blowup there is a defining moment in which the photographers painter friend tells him -what he loves about art, starts with a single almost insignificant portion of an art piece and then everything branches out from that portion with all the pieces falling into place. The Conversation misses this entirely and perhaps that is a comment on Blowup there is no love in the Gene Hackman character for his work or his technique. He is looking for a connection that he never finds -it is pure obsession, the prototype for Michael Manns entire career.

This character dissects the mystery not out of love for art but out of his necessity to work and continue to innovate. He then despises himself and the profession and he becomes isolated.

The pivotal moment in the film for me is when he is seduced out in the open while being taped by his colleague. The camera moves discretely one direction in a shot reverse shot manner however it doesnt cut back it only cuts one direction. Its hard to describe in words however if you see it, youll see what Im talking about. It expresses his movement toward this woman and his need to connect with people. It is his downfall.

Not really a 'thriller', not for everyone by MrBunBun February 14, 2004 - 5:31 PM PST
2 out of 10 members found this review helpful
This movie for me was very much a character study and not so much a thriller or mystery. Granted, it was assigned viewing for a film course so that colored my impression of it. I guess the assumption of any review is that the person watching the film did so voluntarily. I normally would not rent this title, I have no pre-existing interest in Watergate or the 60's or the 70's, and I'm not even a fan of spy films or gadgets. What I saw was a very 'deliberately paced' film, a conflict that was mostly internal, and overall it just barely kept my interest level up to the end.

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GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 8.03)
507 Votes
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Jonathan Rosenbaum's Alternative List to the AFI's
From Rosenbaum's 1998 article in the Chicago Reader: List-o-mania, Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love American Movies (Films were listed alphabetically only.)
A List of Good Movies

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