The Conversation (1974)
Written and Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
What was in the water at American Zoetrope? The studio, originally founded by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, produced some of the best films of the ’70s. As did Coppola and Lucas themselves. And then, sometime around 1983, both of them went totally insane and never made anything that approached the greatness of their earlier work. But we’ll always have movies like “The Conversation” and (the un-enhanced) “Star Wars” to remember them by.
“The Conversation” is a movie that’s been in my queue dating back to (at least) 2004. I’d always heard it was good, but it was inevitably pushed down the list by whatever new release and/or TV show had caught my eye. If I’d only known what I was missing.
Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, a professional surveillance expert who does what’s asked of him, delivers his tapes and doesn’t ask questions. He’s the best wiretapper in the country, but it comes at a price. Harry is a practicing Catholic, but his religion is control. He’s a man of contradictions. The closer you get to Harry, the further away he pushes you. The less you know, the more trustworthy you are. And anyone who shows (or exposes) weakness is out. But Harry has his own weaknesses (or are they strengths?) that soon come back to haunt him.
Coppola’s brilliance as a director is unquestionable. With “The Godfather, Parts I and II,” “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now,” he may have had the best run of any director in American history. But the brilliance with which he stages this movie may be his masterstroke. We open with Harry surveilling what seems to be an innocent, if slightly frenzied, conversation between a young couple. But as we revisit the conversation (and the opening scene) over and over throughout the film, it becomes obvious that there’s more to this story. Much more. And every time you think you’ve figured it out - you haven’t.
This is Gene Hackman’s movie. His performance as Harry is absolutely brilliant. And while the supporting cast (including the staggeringly gone-before-his-time John Cazale) is top notch, Hackman takes everything to a new level.
In case you can’t tell, I loved this movie. Loved it. In fact, this week is a seminal one in this blog’s (admittedly short) history. I awarded my lowest grade ever to “Expelled” (1/2 Aykroyd), but I’m proud to say that I also get to award “The Conversation” my highest grade ever and make it the inaugural member of the FIVE AYKROYD CLUB!!!!! If you haven’t seen this movie, see it now!