By Dirk Sonniksen | September 25, 2013
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Allen Garfield, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford
Harry Caul’s latest surveillance job involves listening in on Mark (Frederic Forrest) and Ann (Cindy Williams), a couple making the most out of a crowded park to talk about nothing in particular—or so it seems. Although Stan (John Cazale) and the remainder of Harry’s team appear bored by their current venture, Harry becomes a bit obsessed with the two and something doesn’t seem right, but then again, nothing ever seems right to Harry as he lives in a constant state of paranoia. Harry’s paranoia only increases as he learns more about the couple in the park.
Harry is certain Mark and Ann are up to something big, but Harry’s made it a point to stay out of the client’s business; Harry records the conversations – he does not get involved. You see, although Harry is a pro in the surveillance business, he’s made decisions that have cost lives and those career missteps haunt him to the very marrow of his misanthropic bones. But neither lonely evenings with his saxophone nor the love of a good woman can keep Harry from delving into this conundrum; unfortunately Harry’s guilt and obsessive nature could cause him to repeat mistakes of the past.
Harry Caul seems to take pride in his work at being the best surveillance guy on the “west” coast, but Harry’s emphasis on remaining disconnected from his clients proves problematic when evidence suggests his current job is headed for a tragic ending. With his anxiety elevated to an all-time high, Harry pushes everyone away, including his colleague Stan and just about anyone else that crosses his path. Harry’s own fear of being watched sees his world shrinking further until Harry Caul is tearing at the walls. It’s this tension coupled with the unfolding mystery of Harry’s surveillance subjects that makes The Conversation such a gripping film.
The Conversation is billed as a psychological thriller, but it transcends the thriller genre and becomes more a case study in Harry Caul. Harry is alone (in his head at least), really alone, and even when his girl Amy (Teri Garr) wants to celebrate Harry’s birthday, he just can’t make that leap; the celebration of birthdays is an event relegated to the happy folks on Earth, and Harry is anything but happy. It’s this unhappiness and guilt that propels him forward, but could also prove to be his undoing.
The Conversation is one of Gene Hackman’s finest performances and it’s a shame he wasn’t included in the Best Actor category, although The Conversation was nominated for Best Picture in ’74 (as well as Best Screenplay and Sound), but lost to another Coppola film, The Godfather Part 2. John Cazale plays Harry’s closest short-lived ally and turns out a brilliant performance as he would all the performances of his all-too-brief acting career and life. Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams also provide stellar performances with their quasi-creepy walks and talks through the park.
Sandwiched between The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2, The Conversation is a film that could be overlooked when browsing the Coppola catalogue, but it’s prescribed viewing for anyone that enjoys an expertly crafted film, complete with tasty 70s film stock and the perfect cast. If you’re looking for a slower paced thriller, this is your movie, and with Coppola penning the script, it’s a worthy examination of the style that made him a dominant force in the film industry.
Rating: 10 of 10