From 1973 to 1975, Francis Ford Coppola was an artist on fire. He directed the greatest movie ever made (arguably) in THE GODFATHER, followed by the greatest sequel ever made in THE GODFATHER PART II. In between these two films, he dashed off the lugubrious character study THE CONVERSATION, which some Coppola fans consider to be his masterpiece and others consider one of the best films of the decade. A thinking man's "thriller", THE CONVERSATION contains little action and may - may? - will! - seem boring to some modern day movie fans who have been brought up on nothing but weekly special-effects blockbusters. For others, it is a movie that asks you to think along with it.
Harry Caul (Gene Hackman in what may be his best role) is a surveillance expert who has recorded a conversation between a young man and woman. When he lets his guard down and gets involved with the implications of that conversation, his tightly-controlled life begins to unravel. Suspecting that his client is setting this couple up for murder, he gets himself entangled in a web of corporate intrigue he doesn't understand and is helpless to stop. Hackman's portrayal of Caul is almost chilling in its lack of emotion for the first half. Only slowly (everything is "slowly" in this film) does the film reveal that Caul is trying to escape his past, where a similar surveillance mission resulted in the gruesome deaths of three people.
The entire cast, including an uncredited Robert Duvall, creates able support for Hackman, especially John Cazale as his assistant and Allen Garfield as a gabby and schmoozy rival in the field of bugging conversations. We learn little of the couple, played by Frederick Forrest and Cindy Williams, which adds to the claustrophobic mystery of the film. All we know is there is an executive (Duvall), the woman (Williams) and another man (Forrest). But the details are vague. Who is the man? Is there an affair going on? And what is the role of Duvall's assistant (Harrison Ford)? Whose side is he on? We are only given the information Hackman is, and all he has is what he can gather from a rather rambling conversation that seems to be about nothing and everything at once. Coppola, who would become known for epics and excess, shows in THE CONVERSATION that he could match Martin Scorsese shot for shot and scene for scene when it came to bringing 1970s-style paranoia to the screen. ½ - JBDrama The Stuff You Gotta Watch