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Plot: Harry Caul is a devout Catholic and a lover of jazz music who plays his saxophone while listening to his jazz records. He is a San Francisco-based electronic surveillance expert who owns and operates his own small surveillance business. He is renowned within the profession as being the best, one who designs and constructs his own surveillance equipment. He is an intensely private and solitary man in both his personal and professional life, which especially irks Stan, his business associate who often feels shut out of what is happening with their work. This privacy, which includes not letting anyone into his apartment and always telephoning his clients from pay phones, is in part intended to control what happens around him. His and Stan's latest job, a difficult one, is to record the private discussion of a young male/female couple meeting in crowded and noisy Union Square. The arrangement with his client, known only to him as "the director", is to provide the audio recording of the discussion and photographs of the couple directly to him alone in return for payment. Based on circumstances with the director's assistant, Martin Stett, and what Harry ultimately hears on the recording, Harry believes that the lives of the young couple are in jeopardy. Harry used to be detached from what he recorded, but is now concerned ever since the deaths of three people was the direct result of a previous audio recording he made for another job. Harry not only has to decide if he will turn the recording over to the director, but also if he will try and save the couple's lives using information from the recording. As Harry goes on a quest to find out what exactly is happening on this case, he finds himself in the middle of his worst nightmare. Runtime: 113 mins Release Date: 31 Dec 1973
He's supposed to be the leading authority in freelance surveillance, but from the start there are hints that while he's good, he's also careless. While his apartment is locked, his landlord leaves him a Happy Birthday present. His mistress, Amy Teri Garr in a small role tells him she saw him standing in the staircase for an entire hour. He invites a rival co-worker to his office which seems to be a warehouse with several other people and carelessly allows the man to record his own conversation by means of what looks to be an innocuous pen which wouldn't be out of place in <more>
any James Bond movie. And his liaison with a call girl he meets at that party results in her stealing the tapes of a conversation he has recorded and that has lately been the focus of his obsession.This is Harry Caul, a loner who is a little too glum to be good company and takes his work seriously. Maybe too seriously -- which eventually proves to be his downfall. The fact that his own co-worker Stan John Cazale leaves him to go work for a rival agency, Moran, only serves to prove Harry is really someone who is so much a loner he drives anyone away from him. He can't seem to have any form of relationship -- it's only time when Amy will also leave him as she seems somewhat frustrated by this wall of privacy he's built around himself. His entire life revolves around secrecy, and he only is able to live vicariously throughout others, even if he himself feels guilty about it and would deny it because to top it all, he has a strong religious streak, and discloses under confession that he was witness of a surveillance gone wrong and which resulted in the deaths of three people. Now this assignment has him worried: he's listened to a conversation between a man and a woman and is afraid the woman's husband may try to kill them both.But is this what he's heard, or has been misinterpreted due to the limitations and distortions of sound? Like 1966's BLOW UP, which dealt with what the human eye is capable of discerning through the mechanism of a camera and what happens when one zooms in, THE CONVERSATION deals with the manipulation of sound to make out a sentence that lies just underneath the sounds of the city. But while that elusive sentence comes through -- "he's kill us if he had the chance" -- what Harry fails to catch is the intonation itself, which would have radically altered his deduction and completely shifted his attention. Like the definition of the word "caul", Harry is unable to see or hear the reality, or that he's been a victim of his own occupation by the end of the film; by making himself visible to whom he thinks was in danger, he's now made himself the target of surveillance by the same agency who employed him as he receives that disturbing call at the end: "We'll be listening to you." Whether it be real or not, one shot implies it is: a panning shot to the right, then to the left, from an elevated angle, showing us the destruction of Harry's apartment through his own hands as he has fruitlessly tries to debug his place. It's the tell-tale pan of a surveillance camera, which he has failed to discover. Again.This is most definitely not an action-packed thriller, but one that is totally cerebral -- it forces you to pay attention, to listen, to heighten your senses and discover for yourself what Harry is trying to find even when we know he will be wrong all along. Even as he seems to teeter over madness near the end as his grisly discovery of blood pouring out of a toilet bowl at the Jack Tarr Hotel indicates, we still wonder if he's actually seeing this, or not. Like BLOW UP, this is one of those mysteries that doesn't look to get solved cleanly, but by being inconclusive, lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled, and in the process, leaves one man destroyed.
To me The Conversation is one of most underrated movies ever. The movie carries on so quietly throughout that the suspense of the movie keeps on building up to one of the best endings in movie history.The directing of this film was among one of the best I have ever seen. Coppola is able to craft his way through another one of his classics. The movie is just perfectly edited together and is so gripping throughout. His directing really takes the audiene to another world that most to almost all of us do not know about. That world is the world of security surveillance and spies. This though is <more>
not an ordinary spy movie, it is a very realistic psychological portrayal and the affects of knowing the real truth. Instead of this movie becoming a complete flop it becomes better and better as it carries on. Along with the cinematography and music he makes the audience feel how remote and controlled our society is. Coppola did not just show it he gave you the actual feeling of it. Coppola deserves much of the credit for this.The writing was very good too. Once again Coppola uses his writing to keep the audience very much engaged into the movie. The writing in this movie ranks up their with his other screenplays such as The Godfather series, Apocalypse Now and Patton.The acting was a bit of surprise to me. It was better than I expected. This film convinced me that Gene Hackman is prime talent. He is not just a man who plays the man always involved in a shouting match but in fact he is a versatile actor who has really limited himself rather than his abilities limiting him. He was perfect for this movie. The supporting cast was great as well. Robert Duvall who always gives the best cameos was good in here too. Harrison Ford who I wish actually had some more screen time was very convincing as a manipulative high ranking executive.The ending in this movie to me is one of the best ever. It shows how or fears can consume us and alter our live. It displays how if our fears consume us we lose the feeling of life itself. That is at least my take of it. This is Coppola's hidden masterpiece that should be seen by all. It will definitely make you think.
A Great Performance... possible plot spoilers... you decide (by majik43-1)
I watched this film because of all the recommendations people had made about it and also because of Francis Ford Coppola and Gene Hackman. The thing that marks this film out from other thrillers is the level of realism in it. 'Harry Caul', Gene Hackman's character, makes for a complex hero. He's emotionally disciplined and brilliant at what he does. He's a man who eavesdrops on others for a living yet values his own privacy to a self-stifling fault. He also lives with regrets. As the film progresses the plot almost takes a backseat to the closely guarded world of Harry, <more>
who is impressively brought to life by Gene Hackman. It's perhaps the kind of role we rarely see him in and yet he gives one of his best ever celluloid performances and an understated one at that. The film also makes great use of sound as a tension-creating device. We, the viewer are invited to eavesdrop with Harry and his assistant 'Stan' played wonderfully by John Cazale - The Godfather, The Deer Hunter , and participate in the films central theme. This device is effective in gaining sympathy as when Harry is eventually faced with a dilemma, his problem is one the viewers can identify with. Yet he isn't the gung-ho grit-bearer that we wish him to be. He crumbles when faced the truth he reluctantly seeks and he takes money from the very people that he suspects of a possible murder. All these traits make him a frustrating man to side with. A lot of credit has to be given to Francis Ford Coppola for the film's suitably subtle pace. This isn't a car-chase type of movie so don't expect 'The French Connection'. But if you want a plausible plot and a challenging, vulnerable performance by Gene Hackman then see this. One of the best thrillers I've ever seen.
A Movie About Poor Communications Skills (by gbheron)
The Conversation is a stark look into the modern art of surveillance and its affect on one of its practitioners. Harry Caul Hackman is at the top of his business, but he's disturbed. Highly paranoiac, he is troubled by bad things that happened to some innocent people as a result of a prior surveillance job. Now he's afraid it's happening again....The Conversation could not be more antithetical of the current movie making style. Stark, claustrophobic, unsexy, slow-paced, and with almost no soundtrack, it slowly builds to its dramatic noirish denouement.A real treat, and as an <more>
added attraction the actors include a young Cindy Williams, Terri Garr, John Cazale, and Harrison Ford. Worth the rental unless anything outside of the MTV mould causes agitation.
Ingenious and mesmerizing little art film from producer-writer-director Francis Ford Coppola, just off "The Godfather Part II" and doing astounding, fluid work. Gene Hackman gives a superbly controlled performance as a wire-tapper who gets too involved in one of his cases, leaving him in the center of a macabre swirl of events. One of those quiet movies that fans of today's blockbusters probably won't appreciate; it tells us quite a lot about the main character without actually saying much at all, so assured are the visuals. It ends on a chilling note that leaves the <more>
protagonist alienated from his life, but Coppola is careful never to alienate his audience. Coppola received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay; Hackman deserved a nod as Best Actor but was shamefully overlooked. Their film is a winner. ***1/2 from ****
Coppola is a cerebral filmmaker hampered by his heritage in Italian storytelling. The clash of his notions of introspection and layering with the Latin focus on character has resulted in some rather complex constructions. It is my impression that we marvel more at the complexities attempted in 'Godfather' and 'Apocalypse' than how well they were managed.Here is a project that elegantly combines the two notions in a simple way and as a result -- for probably the only time -- Coppola completely surrounds and masters the ideas.This is a voyeuristic artifact about a voyeuristic <more>
artifact. We suppose we know what we are doing in casually sitting down to spy on Hackman's character. We suppose we know what is to happen, just as he supposes, both of us relying on our history. In our case, it is a history of films.All films are about other films. The dumb ones follow, the smarter ones comment and tweak and sometimes contradict, as here. And as with Caul, we are surprised to have our expectations turned inside out without completely understanding why.This was back when Hackman actually tried. I wish Coppola still did. Oh well, we have his kids. Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Through a semi-permeable membrane, darkly. (by rmax304823)
SPOILERS.Coppola made this, a personal movie, after the rip-roaring commercial and critical success of "The Godfather." And it's a good one. Whereas "The Godfather" was a splashy violent well-done gangster movie dealing with power and sex, and persuading us to sympathize with a family at least as murderous as that in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," this one has to do with something else entirely. It's not about that old theme of illusion vs. reality. Nobody plays, say, Jack the Ripper in a stage play and then begins to butcher women on the streets. It has <more>
to do, rather, with the interpretation of reality whatever that is , which is an issue of a different color.Briefly, Harry Caul Hackman is hired by "the director," who seems to be a rich and powerful executive, to spy on a young woman and the guy she's seeing Cindy Williams and Frederick Forrest . He's the best surveillance technician on the West Coast and he does an ace job of capturing them on film and audiotape while they wander around Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Harry puts the pieces together and suspects the Director plans to murder them. Well, this isn't Harry's first time at bat here. Back in New York, doing his usual dispassionately expert job of spying, he was responsible for the deaths of a man, his wife, and his child, the incident that drove him to The City. He's a very secretive guy, Harry, and minds his own business, but he's not about to let THAT happen again. When he tried to withhold his tapes from The Director, the tapes are stolen. And when he tries to interfere further a murder does in fact take place. But Harry had it backwards. He interpreted everything on his tapes as signs that the young couple were in danger from The Director, whereas in fact the couple had been planning to murder him for the inheritance, and they succeed too.You can never truly be sure that your interpretations of what's going on are the correct ones because, as Kant argued, our interpretations are limited by our perceptual apparatus, just as Harry's interpretations were limited to what he could learn from four unidirectional microphones, a camera, and a hidden portable mike attached to a receiver. And what all this electronic junk told him was real enough but so ambiguous that its meaning could be twisted one way or another.The movie is rife with symbolism that I'm not sure I'm getting because it too is ambiguous. Harry is as secretive as anyone can be without being frankly paranoid. Nobody knows his home phone number. His girlfriend, who deserts him, doesn't know his birthday or his age. A "cawl" is the thin layer of white fat that covers and conceals a piece of meat such as a leg of lamb. But Harry's raincoat is translucent, one of those ugly plastic ones you can pretty much see through. And he wears prominent glasses so his sight can't be what it used to be. And, after all, an envious competitor in the bugging business does manage to plant a hidden mike on Harry and record a private conversation. And somebody does get Harry's home phone, calls him up and tells him, "We're watching you." This leads to Harry's tearing his whole apartment apart in a futile search for the hidden mike, and leaves him playing a desolate tenor sax while sitting alone on the floor. Harry has no family. His assistant, John Cazale, is a little too inquisitive and is fired. Someone describes Harry as "anonymous and lonely." But he's neither anonymous nor lonely. God and "The Director" know who he is, where he lives, and what he does. And everywhere Harry goes he is now accompanied by his guilty conscience. Oh, Harry's got a lot of company. Or, as he tells his new fake girlfriend while listening to the tapes, "It's no ordinary conversation. It makes me feel -- something."There aren't too many weaknesses. There's a murky dream sequence in which Harry describes his childhood paralysis, but it doesn't have too much to do with the person we know as an adult. Cazale is professional and sympathetic. Allan Garfield is a standout in a mostly comic role as Hackman's jealous rival, a blustery showman who pulls jokes on everyone including himself. The way he uses his blonde assistant in a tiny dress to help him display his wares at a buggery convention is hilarious. He's like an on-stage magician cracking jokes while he stuffs the doves up his sleeve. The party scene reminds me of "La Dolce Vita" when the party-goers explore the ancient castle. People inhabit vast empty echoing spaces. Most of the time they are blocked from one another by iron gratings or hanging sheets of plastic. They whisper intimacies to fantasies.The score is fine. Carmine Coppola uses old melodies behind some of the scenes, and a tinkling puzzling piano statement behind most of the incidents. Sensibly the screen is left silent except for natural noises when Harry looks into the scene of the murder he thinks he witnessed.You know, sometimes it's possible to read too much into something, to see Gestalts where there be no Gestalts. I don't know if I'm making something out of nothing, but is it a coincidence that Harry's birthday falls on the same day he develops a conscience? Or that on the same day, the Director's assistant offers him "Christmas cookies"? Is it pure chance that the repetitive song "Red Red Robin" contains the line, "Still I listen for hours and hours"? That the assistant's name, Stett, means "leave it alone" in Latin? There's much more to be said about this film but I don't want to run out of space so I'll simply recommend seeing it. In its own quiet way it's a far more provocative movie than "The Godfather."
Intelligent and ingenious thriller with magnificent acting by Gene Hackman and perfect direction by Coppola (by ma-cortes)
A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert called Harry Caul reportedly Gene Hackman's favorite movie in which he has acted will go anywhere to bug a private conversation , as he is becoming increasingly uneasy about his current job . He is a solitary man in both his personal and professional life, only helped by his assistant Stan early deceased John Cazale of Deer Hunter , as they are watching a young couple Cindy Williams , Frederic Forrest , Coppola's fetish actor when Harry begins to suspect that they are murder targets . The professional eavesdropper haunted by the time his <more>
bugging cost the lives of some people and terrified that it is happening again , as he has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered . As Harry refines and re-refines the recording, he interprets what he hears in different ways . As Harry discovers shattering revelation believes that the lives of the young couple are in jeopardy .This interesting flick turns out to be a powerful statement about privacy , guilty and responsibility ; being ¨surveillance¨ as the basis and theme of the film . The picture contains thrills , emotion , thought-provoking issues and plot twists during the last reel . Very good acting by Gene Hackman as a freelance surveillance expert as well as an intensely private and solitary mature man . His mood of isolation and loneliness is pretty well established . The ¨Tapper¨ Gene Hackman learned to play the saxophone especially for the film . Gene Hackman later plays a former NSA agent who is a surveillance expert in ¨Enemy of the state¨ 1998 by Tony Scott , and the images of his character in his younger days are taken directly from this film . Secondary cast is frankly good , such as John Cazale as his business associate , Allen Garfield as Bernie Moran , Frederic Forrest as Mark , Cindy Williams as Ann and special appearance by Robert Duvall as the Director . In addition , a pre-stardom Harrison Ford , Billy Dee Williams and Teri Garr appear in minor characters . David Shire's original music was composed prior to production and played for the actors prior to their scenes to get them into the proper moods. Evocative and appropriate cinematography by Bill Butler and Haskell Wexler as uncredited director of photography . This well-made motion picture was stunningly directed by Francis Ford Coppola . In fact , this is Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite of his movies. Coppola had written the outline in 1966 but couldn't get financing until The Godfather 1972 became a success. ¨The Conversation¨ resulted to be one of the best films of the 70s . Rating : Better than average , don't blink during throughout the film . Essential and indispensable seeing for thriller lovers and Gene Hackman fans .
From BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated director Francis Ford Coppola The Godfather, Part II; Apocalypse Now , I may have tried the first few minutes of this film and probably not understood it, and I had heard it was very popular, and I had to watch it as it featured in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Basically in San Francisco lives devout Catholic, jazz music loving and saxophone playing Harry Caul BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated Gene Hackman , who also owns and operates a surveillance business with his highly professional equipment to capture sound. In his personal and <more>
professional life he is highly private and solitary, and this does concern his partner Stan The Godfather's John Cazale who feels left out of the work done by the business. Harry is so private he never lets anyone else into his apartment, and he does not have a telephone and calls all his clients from pay phones, this is to keep control of what is going on around him. His and Stan's latest assignment is to record, to anyone else normal, a conversation between a male/female couple meeting each other in Union Square, which is very crowded and noisy. The client, known only as "the director", wants them to take photographs and record all audio from the closely observed conversation, and give them only to him in exchange for payment. Listening to every word in the every word of the pair, Ann Cindy Williams and Mark Frederic Forrest , Harry believes that they are in danger, from the circumstances of the director's assistant Martin Stett Harrison Ford . He does not normally become attached to any of the words that people on his recordings say, but he has become concerned since the deaths of three people as a result from his previous audio recordings from another job. Harry has to decide whether or not to hand over the recordings, and photos, to the director, and whether or not he could save the couple who always meet in the same place, using the information he has collected. He eventually meets The Director Robert Duvall in person, and he decides to follow Ann and Mark to a hotel, and he tries to listen in on their discussions with any surveillance technique available to him, and it turns out that it was in fact a murder they were talking about committing. In the end Harry discovers that because of his work his apartment has been bugged, and he frantically searches for listening devices, removing floorboards and tearing up the walls, and after failing to find one all he can do is sit alone and play his saxophone. Also starring Allen Garfield as Bernie Moran, Michael Higgins as Paul, Elizabeth MacRae as Meredith and Teri Garr as Amy. Hackman gives an excellent performance as the obsessive character as the loner with surveillance expertise, the supporting actors such as Ford and Duvall do well with their time as well, the rewinding and forwarding of the conversation of the title is fascinating with the sound being broken down and edited to hear every word and grip you to see what Hackman does next, and the surreal paranoia and high observation themes make for fantastic plot line, it is a very clever psychological thriller. It was nominated the Oscar for Best Picture for Coppola, Best Sound and Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Coppola, it won the BAFTA for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Track, and it was nominated for Best Screenplay, and it was nominated the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Drama and Best Screenplay. Gene Hackman was number 42 on The 100 Greatest Movie Stars, and he was number 31 on The World's Greatest Actor. Very good!