Review: The Conversation (1974) (Let’s Talk About A Great Film!)

He’d kill us if he got the chance

Ahhhh, The Conversation, Mr. Coppola’s little gem directed between The Godfather Part I and II. For my money, it’s a more coherent and entertaining film than either Godfather movie. That’s not to say it’s a better movie (it lost Best Picture Oscar to The Godfather Part II, and who am I to argue with the Academy Awards?!?!?), but given a choice of a Francis Ford Coppola film to watch, I’d choose The Conversation any day of the week! The Conversation is an insight into paranoia, an expert dissection of the human conscious when forced to rethink its notions daily. Powered by a powerhouse performance from Gene Hackman, The Conversation is a must-see film.

Harry Caul (played by Gene Hackman) is a surveillance expert. He’s a private person, taking privacy to its limits. During his work, he finds evidence of a potential murder. What he hears is ambiguous, but Caul begins to believe the people involved are talking about killing someone. He’s pulled deeper and deeper into a conspiracy. Paranoia soon finds him, causing Caul to increase his privacy measures and plunging him into a mental crisis.

You can see this paranoia in every camera shot, showing the mental downfall of Harry Caul without gregarious or clichéd dialogue. Each listening to the ‘conversation’ brings up a new interpretation,. These conflicting interpretations obviously send Harry into a mental meltdown. Coppola is almost too clever with the camera, explaining things to us in a few minutes of filming that other films would elaborate using hefty speeches. Gene Hackman is superb in this, conveying this story by a glare or a stare. Although the film is called The Conversation, it’s a masterclass is using visuals for storytelling.

“What a stupid conversation”

Extreme DIY!

The final breakdown scene, where Harry deconstructs his flat, is brilliant, one of my favourite scenes in films. It’s been endlessly repeated (for example in The X Files, or anything involving a conspiracy). Once again, a communicative scene that tells you more than what mere words could. The themes explored here, such as the power of perception against reality, are wholly subtle, and therefore more powerful. Back when it was released, the Watergate scandal was all over the media, so its themes and messages were relevant in the contemporary world. But it’s a film that remains relevant, especially in these times of “fake news” and a US President who uses the ambiguous nature of language for self-exposure. Whole essays could be written (and probably have been written) about The Conversation’s meditations on the role of technology in society as well. Of course, that role is more relevant than ever in these internet-dominated times.

The Conversation explores philosophical issues but doesn’t smash them into your skull with a sledgehammer. Often the dated nature of 70s films make its hard for a modern audience to sit and watch them. But The Conversation plays out with themes and visuals that transcend time. It’s a thriller that’s leaps and bounds above the typical and simple thriller that’s full of chase scenes. Hackman’s superb in it and Coppola was at the top of his game. I honestly prefer it over either Godfather film…

VERDICT: 10/10. The Conversation is a nearly flawless film, where visuals and motifs tell the story, rather than words. Hackman and Coppola are on another level of cinematic greatness here.

What do you think about The Conversation (1974)? Leave your thoughts/opinions below!

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