The Conversation (1974) Review

It’s the final day of Coppola Week at Cinema Parrot Disco & I’ll be finishing with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. I’ve also reviewed his movie The Outsiders and his daughter Sofia’s movies The Bling Ring & Marie Antoinette. Yesterday, I ranked their films in a list of My Top Ten Coppola Movies.

Now let’s talk about The Conversation, which is one that doesn’t seem to get mentioned that much but is really quite good…

The Conversation (1974)

Directed & Written by Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Michael Higgins, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Teri Garr

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered.

My Opinion:

First of all, let’s face it: I suck at writing “movie reviews”. 😉 I’ll remain spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie but for those who have, you’re much better off reading this article HERE than my ramblings below. It’s Francis Ford Coppola being interviewed by fellow filmmaker Brian De Palma about the making of The Conversation. It’s a really interesting read considering it’s a conversation between two respected directors. Damn – Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t totally love Alfred Hitchcock movies, though!

I can see where Hitchcock comparisons were made in the above article as the plot of this movie certainly has a Hitchcock feel to it, which is probably why I enjoyed the story since I love Hitchcock’s films. As also pointed out in that article, its story is somewhat similar to the 1966 film Blow-Up but has a conversation being listened to over & over again that takes on new meaning instead of a photograph as in that film? Maybe – I did see Blow-Up a very long time ago but remember very little now. I should watch it again!

The Conversation is very good and I even prefer it to Apocalypse Now but I’ll admit that I also found it a little slow & dated. The opening scene was absolutely brilliant, in which Cindy “Shirley” Williams & the man in the above picture (not the stupid mime – the other guy) are being “listened to” & recorded by surveillance expert Gene Hackman as they walk around a loud & crowded Union Square in San Francisco.

One of the biggest strengths of this film is, surprisingly, Gene Hackman as the surveillance expert who has been hired to spy on this couple but becomes increasingly concerned with what he fears the outcome will be as a previous surveillance job resulted in people being murdered. I don’t mean to be rude about Hackman – it’s just that he’s one of these old male actors who has been around for years but I’ve never really “noticed” him all that much. He’s great in this role, though! His job has led him to be extremely secretive, paranoid, and obsessed with his own privacy. Or perhaps he was this way to begin with, which is how he ended up in a job which would result in him living a very lonely life? Either way, it means he’s unable to form any close relationships as he doesn’t trust anyone, which we see in the way he interacts with colleagues and especially with his lover (played by Teri Garr). Oh! Oh!! And I read that, basically, Hackman is playing this same character again in Enemy Of The State with Will Smith?? I mean, not the actual same character but one very similar. I wonder if that was intentional? I guess I need to watch that one again as well as Blow-Up! Anyway: Bravo to Hackman in this film.

You know who else is in this movie? Harrison Ford!!! It makes for a nice little American Graffiti connection with Cindy Williams. But he doesn’t have a huge role. Luckily. Because, um, his acting is a little dodgy… I mean, it was still very early in his career so who cares if his acting was a little “off” – the dude is Indiana Jones & Han Freaking Solo! Look at him – so damn handsome:

Summary:

I know I haven’t seen all of Francis Ford Coppola’s films but The Conversation is a very good piece of filmmaking that I suppose gets somewhat unfairly ignored as it came out in between The Godfather & The Godfather: Part II. It’s slow & subtle and not some “grand epic” like those but the mystery involving the couple Hackman is spying on had me intrigued and Hackman’s performance deserves special recognition. I forgot to mention during my review yet another movie this one reminded me of: the absolutely brilliant German film The Lives Of Others. The Conversation isn’t quite as good as that one nor as good as its Hitchcock comparisons but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good “mystery thriller” with a great central performance. Don’t let my score slightly put you off as I rate mainly according to my own personal enjoyment & this one did drag a bit in the middle. If I was basing this only on worthiness, I’d give The Conversation a slightly higher rating. 

My Rating: 7/10

Since I couldn’t help but think of Laverne & Shirley anytime Cindy Williams was on the screen, here’s one of the many excellent clips from my beloved Wayne’s World. Zang! 😉

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