The Conversation

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

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 snails pace as we’re used to the high-energy, action movies. The ending is unresolved, Gene Hackman cracks a smile maybe once in the entire movie and if you’re not singinging “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 as well…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?

The Conversation is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it’s anamorphically enhanced. Paramount has really been on the ball as of late, and I’d find it hard to believe if they ever turned back to their old ways of not giving their movies the benefit of a new 16:9 transfer. While the movie is nearly 30 years old, for the most part it looks good. Edge enhancement is minimal and the level of detail visible is very impressive. While there are several scratches and some artifacting throughout the movie, I feel that it’s the fault of the print and not part of the DVD process…as it’s evidenced that Paramount can put out a superior transfer given the right materials. On the whole, it’s a nice, solid transfer and certainly better than any other version of this movie on any other format.

Audio: How does it sound?

As is the case with a lot of Paramount’s older catalog titles, this has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. For the most part it’s a mono soundtrack, with the action taking place in the center channel, but at times (most notably during Harry’s flash forward scenes) the 5.1 kicks in and makes it’s presence known. While this movie certainly isn’t audio-driven, having a new soundtrack is always a nice touch. My only complaint, and this is very minimal, is that the original mono soundtrack wasn’t included. Paramount has included their original mono tracks on several of their discs and it’s always a nice feature to have by selecting the “unaltered” version. Still, the extras on this disc more than make up for the lack of the mono soundtrack.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Most every other studio has put out a few titles that have at least three commentary tracks. Warner has “Contact” and “The Perfect Storm”. Se7en has four as does Fight Club…Paramount has had two tracks on a few discs, and this one is yet another. The first track is by Francis Ford Coppola himself, which is always a nice treat as he tends to talk throughout the movie instead of just sitting there and watching it with a few comments in between. Coppola is 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. Not very informative, but it’s another nice touch. Lastly, I usually don’t comment on menus, but these are very clever and some of Paramount’s best to date. If The Conversation is one of your favorites, pick up this disc!

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