Plot: What’s it about?
Sometime after Francis Ford Coppola Directed and won the Best Director Oscar for “The Godfather”, he followed it up with a movie called “”The Conversation””. Now, by today’s standards, this movie moves at a snail’s pace as we’re used to high-energy, action movies. The ending is unresolved, Gene Hackman cracks a smile maybe once in the entire movie and if you’re not singing “When the Red, Red Robin Goes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” by the time the movie is finished, then you just weren’t paying attention. So what then makes this movie so intriguing to watch? A few modern movies that this compares to (or at least that I can think of) are “Sneakers” and “Enemy of the State” (which, oddly enough, starred Gene Hackman – looking essentially like his character of Harry Caul of this movie). No one knows who’s watching who, who’s bugging who and what happens to what in this movie, but it’s fun to watch. And the long and short of it is this.
Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is an expert at what he does, surveillance. Considered one of the best in the world, he works freelance with his partner, Stan (John Cazale). Harry is a very secretive, paranoid person who loves what he does. The one thing that has kept him going all of the years is that he doesn’t get too involved in it. He views that the material he records is nothing more than doing his job and he doesn’t take any responsibility for what, if anything, happens as a result of his services. For his latest case, he has been asked to record a couple for someone known only as “The Director” (a cameo by Robert Duvall). We don’t really know why, and if we implore Harry’s logic, we don’t really care. The job is tough, they walk in circles in a crowded park thinking that no one could possibly know what they’re talking about, but lest we forget–Harry is the best. Taking all the information from his three sources, he slowly starts to piece together “The Conversation”. Only this time, it’s different. Harry starts to get involved in what is actually being said and starts to ponder what might happen when he turns the tape over to The Director.
We learn that Harry is a simple man (not unintelligent, but doesn’t live extravagantly). He has a girlfriend who really likes him, but even she suspects that he is spying on her. It seems to be the problem that Harry doesn’t like people asking questions about him, but when the shoe’s on the other foot…it’s fine! Harry finally makes it to see the Director’s Assistant, Martin Stett (Harrison Ford) who gives him his salary of $15,000. However, it’s Harry’s conscience that takes over and he decides to keep the tapes much to the resentment of Mr. Stett. It’s at this moment that the movie takes a swing. Harry is offered a partnership with a competitor of his, but he turns it down, and he’s then seduced by a woman who takes the tapes and turns them into The Director. Harry feels things crashing down on him, as he is told that he’s the one being watched. We don’t really know how to react, as does Harry. We can only sit and wonder what happens to the couple whose conversation was recorded. What happens to The Director? Who’s spying on Harry? “The Conversation” answers a lot of these questions, but it also leaves a few of them unanswered as well. “The Conversation” will make you think, for sure. It will make you pay attention and in the end, make you wonder.
Video: How does it look?
When I last viewed this film it was on standard DVD and on my old 4:3 television. Well eleven years and about four TV’s later, I’d like to think that technology has come to the point where I’ll be able to watch a 37 year-old film and will be impressed with what I see on screen. As it stands, it has and I am. Understandably the movie has a bit of grain attached to it, but I was pretty impressed with how sharp that some of the scenes are. Colors are a bit on the muted side, but there are intermittent parts in which the colors look very lively. The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer is framed beautifully (think “security cameras”) and it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie that actually fills up the entire screen. Yes, “The Conversation” has some faults visually, but considering a movie of this age I’d consider it a successful effort.
Audio: How does it sound?
I’ve always found it somewhat odd that older movies are now available in DTS HD Master Audio mixes and I realize a lot of that is just a fascade, but there are parts of “The Conversation” that really don’t sound that bad. Granted, the majority of the film is dialogue-driven and we hear a lot of recordings (with some hisses and pops – gotta love analog). Walter Murch, who also contributes a commentary track to this film, is responsible for the sound mix and to say that the man is a legend is somewhat of an understatement. For you purists out there, Lionsgate has also provided a mono soundtrack consistent with the original mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
It’s been about ten years since I’ve sat down to watch this film and while the supplements are intact from the previous standard DVD (issued by Paramount), there’s a lot more to be found on this Blu-ray release. Francis Ford Coppola gives a pretty decent commentary track. He’s very proud of this movie and references “The Godfather” a few times as well (maybe that’s a good sign). While the commentary with Editor Walter Murch isn’t as informative, he does let us in on how the cameras moved throughout the movie. If you look, the film looks much as if it were filmed like a security camera works (just back and forth with actors walking out of the frame then reappearing – very interesting). Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer as well as a 7 minute featurette entitled “Close up on The Conversation”. There’s not much to it, but it was made at the same time the film was, so it’s odd to see such younger versions of Hackman and Coppola. A general plot summary is given and there’s a few scenes that show Coppola and Hackman discussing how to shoot a scene.
This Blu-ray version adds a number of features which is impressive for a movie of this age. First off we find a couple of screen tests for actors Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford (whatever happened to that guy?) as well as “No Cigar”, one of Coppola’s short films he made way back when. “Harry Caul’s San Francisco” shows one of my favorite cities then and now. We do get an interview with the composer who scored the movie and tells us of his career and they sing us a song to boot. Yes, really. There’s an archived interview with Gene Hackman as well as some “Script Dictations from Francis Ford Coppola” which is the lion’s share of the supplements.