The Conversation (1974)

the conversation movie poster gene hackman
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great character with great cinematography and sound

Drags a bit in the middle but still effective

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Conversation

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  April 7, 1974

MPAA Rating:  PG

the conversation union square cindy williams william frederic

What’s the conversation about?

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a master at his trade.  As a surveillance master, he pulls off jobs that others in the business can only dream of.  When he and his crew are hired to record a couple in a busy San Francisco park, Harry gets more than he bargains for when he realizes that lives could be endangered.  Now, Harry finds himself questioning who he can trust…and who might be watching him!

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation is a dramatic suspense film.  The movie was released to critical acclaim and a fair showing at the box office.  The movie won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Sound (losing Best Picture to Coppola’s other movie The Godfather Part II).  The movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1995.

the conversation harrison ford gene hackman

I’m beginning to suspect that I’m being followed…

The Conversation isn’t an easy movie, but it is a worthy movie.  The film is a great character study and Hackman has often said that this is his favorite performance (and with a long career of great movies, that says something).  The movie is strong on its own and if it hadn’t gone head-to-head with The Godfather Part II, probably would have been even better remembered.  Due to the movie’s plotline, a ******Spoiler Alert****** is issued for the rest of the review.

The movie’s set-up is pretty basic.  A team records a conversation and the recorder becomes obsessed with the conversation.  It is the character that makes the movie work.  Hackman’s Caul is so guarded, caught-up in his past, and riddled with guilt due to religion and questions about what he does for a living that he allows things to slip by him and misinterpret the message.  While he thinks he’s listening to a secret affair that could lead to death, he doesn’t understand he’s really hearing plans for a murder…something in which he was intentionally picked to set up.  It is a clever twist that is slow and building.  I think it drags a bit around the surveillance convention, but it does continue to show his lack of social graces.

the conversation bloody toilet

Oops…I might have screwed up

Hackman is perfect as the dumpy Caul.  He is the everyman that can do surveillance because he doesn’t stand out.  He’s bland in appearance, but so twisted inside that the character is richer than most characters.  He’s also backed by a great supporting cast which is overshadowed by him (intentionally).  You have Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest as the spied upon couple, Harrison Ford as the shady corporate man, Robert Duvall as the head of the corporation, and Teri Garr and Elizabeth MacRae as Harry’s only interactions with women (which shows how/why he deals with Cindy Williams).  Both Allen Garfield (the pushy surveillance guy) and John Cazale are also great and leave you wishing they had more time in the movie.

the conversation ending saxophone harry caul gene hackman

He is not getting his deposit back

Not only does the movie look great, but Coppola does a lot to play with the sound since sound and hearing is at the heart of The Conversation.  Conversations were recorded different ways to influence how they were heard and it is fun to see the changes in technology…Harry Caul would have a heart attack on the invasion of privacy.

The Conversation is a great film that shows a different time but universal fears.  Many consider Hackman’s appearance in Enemy of the State (1998) as a mini-sequel to this movie since the character also is into surveillance and is paranoid…if Harry Caul continued his path to the 1990s.  The Conversation is a classic and should be seen by fans of film.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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