“I have nothing personal except my keys.” So says Harry Caul, one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history. He is equally admirable and tragic, noble and pathetic. This is a man who reacts to a surprise birthday present by demanding to know how the gift giver entered his apartment without him, but who turns down money and an easy way out when it’s not from the right person. A man of contradictions, who shouts at his co workers for daring to be curious about their work, then destroys himself with his own curiosity.

Right from the opening shot of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece The Conversation, there is a sense of doomed paranoia. As the camera slowly zooms in on a busy square, we are unsure of who to trust. Where is our protagonist? Does the mime dancing around have a central role to play in this story or is he a mere distraction?

We are led along from here through a maze of deception, fragility, tension and haunting piano notes as Harry Caul unravels before our eyes.

He is a surveillance expert who has a crisis of conscience when he believes the people he is recording will be put in danger by his work.

Coppola’s direction is near perfect, putting us deep inside the head of this man who would sooner break up with a girlfriend than tell her what he does for a living. The camera often loses Harry in his apartment for a moment before finding him again, as though we are watching remote controlled cctv. It lets us get to know him but never allows us too close; this man who keeps everyone at arms length, and yet in the end cannot overcome his own morality.

The music is beautiful and unsettling, the editing jarring when it needs to be and tender when it doesn’t.

The music is beautiful and unsettling, the editing jarring when it needs to be and tender when it doesn’t, but the star of this show is Gene Hackman. His performance is wonderfully understated, drawing sometimes sympathy and sometimes frustration. Any one of his numerous scenes could win awards on their own.

Some people claim this is one of Coppola’s best films. They are wrong. It is his best. And that is saying something. It is one of the greatest ever, and well worth your time.

The Conversation is available from amazon.com, vudu.com, and any DVD retailer with half a brain.

Article by Nick Inglis.

Get in touch with Nick at nickinglis77 at gmail.com

Poster art taken from Wikipedia under Fair Use licence – see licence here.