By Dave McCoy
Bleak and mysterious, Francis Ford Coppola's taut masterpiece about
responsibility, privacy, alienation, and paranoia is part Hitchcockian
thriller, part grim character study. Hackman plays Harry Caul, a guarded
wreck of a human being whose profession as the world's greatest
surveillance expert has detached him from everyday reality. Though a
topnotch voyeur, amorally earning his living by bugging other people's
conversations and selling the tapes to clients, Caul keeps his own life
fiercely private. He has no friends, just associates in the wiretapping
business, all of whom he distrusts; his love life consists of apathetic
sex with what could be any woman; his apartment contains three locks but
few possessions. His indifference to life extends to his attitude about
his job: though he's a wiretapping genius, he accepts no responsibility
for what harm his work might produce--it's merely work ... until now.
While on his latest assignment, Caul breaks his own code and becomes
immersed in the latest conversation he's taped. While piecing together
fragments of a lunchtime conversation (Coppola dazzles us with his
repeated fetish for technology here), something stirs Caul and he begins
projecting his own misery onto the discussion. He finally discerns that
some evil plot may occur because of his work and is forced into the moral
dilemma of whether to turn in the tapes.
Ultimately, Coppola's cynical, complex script doesn't just condemn Caul
for his foolish discovery of his own conscience; it shatters him into a
million pieces, during an unforgettable final image. Allusions to Watergate
are impossible to ignore, and the movie is still one of the most
devastating, important films in Super70s American cinema.
The Conversation received Academy Awards
nominations for Best Picture (Francis Ford Coppola - Producer, Fred Roos -
Co-producer), Writing (Best Original Screenplay) (Francis Ford Coppola)
and Sound (Walter Murch, Arthur Rochester).