The Conversation (1974)


The Conversation starts slowly, with the audience not really sure about what is happening.  We slowly realise that the couple we can see walking about are being monitored by a group of men who seem to be following their every move.  It is only when Harry Caul (Hackman) jumps in the back of a clapped out old van that we realise this is old school surveillance.

We then jump to Harry’s work space; an open and somewhat deserted warehouse, maybe a reflection of his personality, as he seems to like to distance himself from people, something that is confirmed in a scene with him and his lover.

Things start to heat up when Harry goes to hand in the tapes of the conversation he recoded.  A very young Harrison Ford presents himself as a shady character when he tries to get the tapes from Harry.  Harry has strict instructions to give them to the director alone and refuses to let the assistant have them.   When trying to leave the building Harry sees the two people he was recording and realises the conversation might be more important than he first thought.  He returns to his workroom and listens again.  He realises the conversation he has recoded may lead to the deaths of the two people involved.  This is something that Harry could not let happen – due to his past.

Harry will now have to suffer the consequences of his action and the surveyor becomes the surveyed.

This is one of Coppola’s more underrated films and is as unassuming as the character of Harry himself.  The emphasis is towards technology, (as outdated as it seems to today’s audiences – check out the reel to reels) and how it will change the way people in society are monitored.  The scene where they are at a surveillance conference could be a premonition of today’s CCTV society.

This film has many similarities to the film Blow Up by Antonioni, in as much as what we see in Blow Up, we hear in the conversation.   Gene Hackman delivers and excellent performance as the socially awkward Harry with equally good performances from Harrison Ford and John Cazale.

This is a film that I will definitely have to sit and watch again to fully understand the intricacies of the story and fully appreciate Coppola’s vision.  A definite mystery, thriller classic that I look forward to seeing again.

The disc has some fantastic features; including director’s and sound department’s commentary, actor’s screen tests, multiple interviews and a few featurettes.  The transfer is great, with particular emphasis on the sound.

The Conversation is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 31st October 2011.


Film Rating: ★★★★☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★☆

  1. Julio Kukanja says

    ive often wonder what a remake would be like, in light of how much (new) technology plays a central role in this magnificent film.

    many things make this a near perfect film.. john cazale, for one, is amazing in this and everything else he has done.

  2. Mark Wall says

    I completely agree, Julio.
    Maybe we are due a remake, as great as this version is. Would be very interesting to see how the technology has progressed since then. I’d be afraid they’d make it lean too much towards sci-fi though.

  3. Chris Knipp says

    This is a classic. I would rate it much higher. I don’t think the technology is important. That’s not what it’s about. Nor are “remakes” needed of great films.

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