The Conversation (1974)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford

Revisited this one recently to show it to my wife who has a penchant for mystery thriller movies. I find this to be Coppola’s third best film after Apocalypse and The Godfather, its use of sound design editing music, dialogue, and sound effects to reveal aspects of the mystery was innovative and engaging. A reflection of the times in which it was released, this became an unintentional echo of the Watergate trials.

The film follows a freelance surveillance expert working in San Francisco, hired to monitor a couple’s conversation for a cryptic business executive played by Harrison Ford. Disturbed by details of the conversation and an increase in suspicioius events surrounding his business and the job, Hackman’s character decides to delve deeper into the background of the assignment and discovers a horrible secret that could ruin his career if not his life.

Several scenes in this movie still stick with me, and it was refreshing upon viewing again after about 10 years to see my mind’s eye had preserved them accurately. The long lens deep focus shots of the couple walking through the crowd, the lonely, empty frames capturing Hackman at work in his warehouse office, the horrific toilet scene overlaid with distorted screams, and the final shot of Hackman, mentally broken, surrounded by the destructive power of his own paranoia. Credit where credit is due to Walter Murch, master editor and crafter of many these memorable interwoven sounds and images.

Also by this director: The Godfather (1972), Apocalypse Now (1979)

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