Independent electronic surveillance wizard Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) leads a bleak lonely life, although professionally he is highly respected. His latest assignment begins to gnaw at his conscience as he delves deeper into the conversation he secretly records between a man and a woman in a public square. Demons from his professional past re-surface, and his self doubts are fuelled by the apparent danger in which his subjects seem to be caught. Meanwhile, his client is agitating and his professional peers are irritating. A murder seems imminent; but whose?
Review by Louise Keller:
If, like me, you didn’t catch this fabulous thriller first time round, don’t miss this opportunity to see it gloriously restored on the big screen while you can. Francis Ford Coppola has gone back to the original camera negative to deliver a crisp print, while the all-important sound, comprising critical dialogue and haunting music, has been remastered from the original three-channel stereo recordings. David Shire’s solo jazz piano is fluid and incessant in its repetitive phrases, building more and more tension as the film progresses. And, of course, the fact that the crux of the plot hinges not only on the words, but also on the actual emphasis of how the words are spoken, makes this remastering even more exciting. The Conversation is a masterpiece. The plot is simple and chillingly effective, as we listen, with the surveillance expert to a taped conversation. At first there is nothing special about it – after all, this is what he does for a living. In fact he is known as ‘The best bug-er on the West Coast.’ But as he realises the significance of what he has taped, he sets about to find out what is it that is so important. The relevance of his discovery is a little like David Hemmings’ in Blowup, when his photo reveals more than obvious at first glance. Gene Hackman is superb as Harry Caul, a man carrying many secrets including paranoia. He divulges nothing to anyone except to the walls as he buries his soul into playing soulful jazz on his only true friend, the saxophone. While he makes a living from exposing other people’s secrets, he is totally obsessed with his own privacy. Even as he is about to make out with a lonely blonde, he listens to his beloved tapes as if they were an aphrodisiac. Coppola directs each scene to convey so much mood – from the choice of camera shot, the way characters walk in and out of frame and the ominous shadows that form much of the look of the film. John Cazale is effective as Harry’s associate Stan, while Harrison Ford is very young and fresh as the Director’s Assistant. Watch out for Teri Garr as the sweet, lonely Amy, and Robert Duvall in a pivotal cameo. Riveting from the very first memorable frame to the last, The Conversation is a talking point indeed!
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Conversation, even 28 years after it was made, is as good as new, both thematically and cinematically. This is partly because of the excellence of the new print, specially struck by Francis Ford Coppola for Australian release (because of circumstances, and because he cares about his work), with a superb remastered soundtrack. But the quality of the image and sound aside, the film stands as a monument to Coppola’s artistry as a filmmaker. The long, slow, fascinating opening zoom shot, for instance, stands as a metaphor for the film’s subject, something that only occurs to us at the end. (It is also the first example of a mechanically driven zoom in a feature film, apparently.) Throughout the film, Coppola (with help from his talented team) uses camera, lighting, editing and sound - not just the fabulous piano score, but sound - as his tools, to prod us into thinking about what we are seeing. Gene Hackman portrays the morally ambiguous Harry Caul with nuance and insight, drawing us into his bizarre world of electronic surveillance, his bland life filled only with loneliness, his God-fearing quirks and his inability to relate to women. All of that is given a nice metaphor by his obsession for privacy and security – the locks on his doors echoing the locks on his soul. His tortured response to his work is both tragic and noble, but the film’s most accomplished aspect is the way the complexities are kept simple and human. The ethical issues are bound up in the characters, and the film doesn’t rush to tell the story without exploring the why and how of it. The Conversation is an enormously satisfying and compelling drama from an enormously gifted filmmaker.
Email this article
Congratulations to the winners of double passes:
John Duong, Danny Bruinsma, Arthur Easton, Stellina DeFranco, Kaye Separovic, Brendan O'Dwyer, Jill Lehmann, Alida Vosu, Paul Skye, Sam Jones
CONVERSATION, THE (M)
CAST: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford
PRODUCER: Francis Ford Coppola
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
SCRIPT: Francis Ford Coppola
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Butler
EDITOR: Richard Chew, Walter Murch
MUSIC: David Shire
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dean Tavoularis
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: August 15, 2002; Melbourne: September 8, 2002
Find out more about the Australian film industry on Wiki