The Conversation

Synopsis: Francis Ford Coppola’s provoking mystery-drama explores the morality of privacy and stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, expert surveillance man. A routine wire-tapping job turns into a modern nightmare as Harry hears something disturbing in his recording of a young couple in a park. He begins to worry about what the tape may be used for and becomes involved in a maze of secrecy and murder. Set in San Francisco, the film also features Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford and Frederic Forrest. Nominated for Best Picture of 1974, The Conversation was made between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.
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The Conversation 8.0

There’s not much to ‘The Conversation’, truth be told. It all revolves around the covert recording of a conversation, an exchange between two people in a park, and the repercussions of this operation on those involved – especially the lead surveillance expert, Harry Caul (played rather morosely by Gene Hackman), who has been hired by a shadowy “director”.

There’s an intriguing mystery behind this recording and a number of secrets are going be revealed before the film’s end. I can’t disclose much for fear of ruining the overall experience, but let me just say that I was as involved throughout as I was surprised by the great reveal (both for its deceptive simplicity AND its complexity). happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

From the onset, we don’t truly know what the conversation’s about, but there is enough material for us to get a sense of it. Very soon, though, we discover that there is danger involved, in the form of the director’s assistant, played by Harrison Ford. The moment that Caul tries to release his recordings to this client, he discovers that there’s more going on that he initially suspected, that this may not be just a recording like any other.

I loved the use of the visual footage of the walk in the park as cues for the recording, and how Coppola re-used the footage time and again to explore this exchange further. It felt as though the puzzle was slowly being put together before our eyes, transforming an audio device into a visual medium. Some might find it repetitious, but, to me, it was essential to the understanding of the subject – not only did it provide us with clues, but it showed us how one can get too close to focus on a picture, how we can easily get lost in details.

Hackman plays Caul as a gruff, very controlled man, who doesn’t trust anyone. He’s always analyzing his environment, the people and the backgrounds, for intrusions on his privacy and his own secrets. He’s extremely suspicious and cautious. Thankfully, while Caul is quite unappealing, Hackman manages to help us empathize with him just enough so that we may understand this man and his motives. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

From the onset, Caul claims to only be concerned with the job, with getting a good recording; he remains extremely focused on the task at hand. He is a consummate professional, certainly, but could this work ethic be rooted in past problems with another job, one gone wrong? Is he trying to justify this damaging work to himself by zeroing in on the technical aspect? Is he deceiving himself into forgetting his own qualms about the ethics involved? Whatever the case may be, he doesn’t allow himself to be distracted and no one can interfere with his work.

And yet, he becomes obsessed with unravelling the mystery behind these new recordings – if only because he’s been threatened and his work space and personal life have been compromised. In his quest for answers, in attempting to come to terms with this situation, he is trying to reclaim that which he cherishes most: his own sense of freedom, of control over his life. He is also trying to soothe his aching soul and wash away any remorse that he may feel.

As he gets more and more caught up with this enigma his paranoia grows. By the picture’s end, we find ourselves facing a very troubling moment, a harsh lesson being taught to the character and the audience: that our privacy is so easily compromised if we aren’t careful, if we don’t expect it to be protected by society. It also tells us that fear can only nurture more fear, not peace of mind. These are messages that resonates even more so today, what with the numerous privacy issues endemic to our (dis)information age. scared0014 Free Scared Emoticons

‘The Conversation’ is unbelievably slow-paced by today’s standards, but it’s perfectly-suited for delving into the psyche of Harry Caul, a man being eaten away by regret as well as the knowledge that his professional work is counter to his own personal needs. Knowing what he is capable of makes him even more reclusive and more walled-up, incapable of opening up to the people in his life, isolating him not just on a professional level, but also on personal and intimate levels. He is a frightened, lonely man, who, in trying to protect himself, has caged himself. sad0038 Free Sad Emoticons

There’s a reason why this film was selected for the US National Film Registry in 1995. ‘The Conversation’ is a culturally-significant motion picture that, while trapped in a very specific moment in time, transcends this boundary to give its audience a timely message. ‘The Conversation’ is given life by subtle, studious performances and a detailed analysis of its protagonist; although it may test the patience of more action-oriented audiences, it’s nonetheless a tremendously engaging film. happy0021 Free Emoticons   Happy

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