The Conversation

Production year 1974
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams

In between his two definitive gangster epics The Godfather and The Godfather Part II Coppola wrote and directed this fascinating conspiracy thriller. It is one of the very best American films of the 1970s whose legacy can be clearly seen in the highly praised TV series The Wire. It was also a direct inspiration for Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller Enemy of the State.

Gene Hackman leads a fine cast as Harry Caul - a surveillance expert known as the best “bugger” on the west coast. Using hi-tech microphones and recording equipment he can listen in on a conversation anywhere it takes place. Caul prides himself on being the ultimate professional and claims that what his clients do with the information is not his responsibility.  But in reality he is racked by guilt over the deaths of three people involved in a past wire tap job and as a result becomes obsessed by the fate of a couple whose conversation he is hired to record.

It is one of the finest performances in Hackman’s long career. In sharp contrast to the crazy extrovert he played in The French Connection he portrays Harry Caul as an eccentric loner whose strange profession has rendered him paranoid and fearful.

Although The Conversation was written in the mid 60s it was released just as the Watergate scandal hit the headlines and reflected perfectly the deep suspicion and mistrust that tainted the Nixon administration and others at that time. It seems no less relevant today in today’s world with CCTV on every corner and government surveillance running wild…

The film won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival of that year.  Walter Murch, who won two BAFTAs for his work as the supervising editor and sound designer, is largely responsible for the distinctive style of this unsettling and complex movie.