The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" is a movie that embraces the stillness and the madness of obsession. It's a movie about secrets and the lack thereof—it is also about context.
The movie's main character, who spends a majority of the film in silence, is Henry Caul (Gene Hackman) ...a surveillance expert. He's the best of the best, even his jealous colleagues admit to this.
The eye of the camera is another character who spends the movie following Henry around. It adds to the whole idea of surveillance and reconnaissance. Christopher Nolan's "Following" takes it a step further, but "The Conversation" is less insane than Nolan's film.
The movie begins as the camera zooms in on a street. There are many people all doing individual activities. No one really sticks out expect an annoying mime who is harassing some of the meandering crowd. Closer and closer the camera comes until it targets the head of Henry.
Henry is unique among the crowd, he seems awkward. The way he walks differs from the easy gait of everyone else, like he's trying to hide something or trying to evade someone.
We then see a couple talking, their talks is jumble with technological faults. It soon becomes clear that Henry and a team are recording the conversation between the couple—a young, bespectacled man and a short brunette girl. They seem at ease, though the clear snippets of their conversation are filled with odd remarks.
This is the conversation that the title of the movie is referring to and we keep revisiting it as the movie continues.
Henry gradually deciphers the unintelligible parts of the recording and we hear more and more of the conversation over time. Each time, there is a new sentence that changes the meaning of the entire meeting entirely...it's quite clever writing. Coppola wrote the script as well and though he's most known for "The Godfather", remember that his first Oscar was for screenwriting for "Patton".
Henry has a conscience...that's important to note. I think that it comes and goes at convenient moments during the movie—sometimes it seems like he doesn't care, and other times he's weighted down by guilt.
A man of mystery, Henry would rather just leave the room than be questioned. One point has him opening up to a woman, an act that is extremely intimate, even more so for Henry. Though he doesn't say much, it just shows that it takes a lot to make Henry discuss his personal life. Naturally, he gets burned for his tender words—it adds on to Henry's privacy.
Somewhat OCD and paranoid to an extent, Henry is a curiously dull character to have lead your movie—though Gene Hackman gives a great performance.
This film was nominated for three Oscars including a nod to the sound department—deservedly recognized. The sound is something that stands out in "The Conversation" because of how the recording changes.
Henry Caul becomes haunted by the conversation of the young couple and the implications that it mights have.
Also added onto the film's awards is the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or which was the first of two that Coppola would win (the other one was for "Apocalypse Now").
Yes, the movie is intriguing and inherently fascinating. The jazz of the soundtrack is atonal enough to reflect the growing apprehension and obsession in the mind of Henry Caul. The bleak quietness with which the movie is shot lures the viewer into a false sense of security...and then, comes the thriller ending.
The third act reveal is good, but not great. It's not about the reveal as much as it is about the next step of Henry's obsession.
In the end, the film drags. It takes too much time for characters that are undeveloped. It's also somewhat random.
To be honest, not much happens in "The Conversation"—though it was very interesting.
"The Conversation" is still remarkably relevant...just look at all the controversies happening right now over breaches of privacy. It just goes to show you that some movies never age; and to its credit,
"The Conversation" is one such film.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones