"The Conversation" DVD Movie Review

9/03/2010 Posted by Admin

"The Conversation" 

DVD Movie Review

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Written by Coppola, 113 Minutes, Rated PG

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

When most people think of Francis Ford Coppola, the first film to come to mind is likely to be either one of "The Godfather" movies or "Apocalypse Now." But in the midst of the '70s, when Coppola was churning out masterpiece after masterpiece, he came out with the smaller, quieter "The Conversation," a drama easily on par with the rest of the director's best, and a true testament to the power of low-key direction and acting.

In one of the most masterfully restrained performances of all time, Gene Hackman portrays surveillance expert and amateur saxophone player Harry Caul. Shy, paranoid and in grief over a previous job gone awry, Harry and his friend and partner Stan (the great, underrated John Cazale) are tasked with a particularly challenging surveillance job. The duo must record a couple as they converse in the middle of a huge San Francisco crowd in Union Square. Following the recording, however, Harry begins doubting the morality of giving up the footage he's gathered, as he believes it may result in the deaths of the couple. He soon finds his life at risk when his employer (Robert Duvall) and his lackey (Harrison Ford) begin having him followed and surveilled.

It's really more a thriller in name than execution--Coppola was never one to stick to the expectations of his genres, and like "The Godfather" films did for the gangster genre and "Apocalypse Now" did for war films, "The Conversation" is more a character piece than a thriller. Or, perhaps more accurately, the thrills are more a result of our understanding of Harry, his life and his career than in the actual events of the film.

Unlike those other famous films, though, "The Conversation" is very low-key. There are a couple very big moments, particularly the Union Square sequence, but for the most part this is a very small and intimate film with a rather minimal setting. In fact, we spend much of the film closed in like Harry, hiding behind the supposedly safe walls of his apartment, hearing only what he hears, seeing only what he sees. The very nature of the plot falls on the shoulders of Harry and the audience's forced dependence on his personal interpretation of everything that takes place--we get no inkling of the reality of his employer or the potential fate of the couple from anyone but him, and as such he acts as a sort of third-person unreliable narrator.

Hackman has had a long and excellent career, but his performance here still stands easily among his best. The rest of the cast is quite good as well, though none come close to Hackman.

The film is also quite a technical marvel, despite its small setting and simple plot. The sound editing in particular is astounding, and the Union Square sequence is one of Coppola's finest moments. Really, the fact that Coppola could move so easily from something like "The Godfather" to this film really encapsulates what a master filmmaker he is--he may have fallen short as of late, but he was the best of his kind in the '70s. "The Conversation" may never be considered his greatest work, but hopefully it will continue to be remembered as one of his smaller gems.

Grade: A

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes