Reissued as a new print remastered from the original camera negative is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 classic film, The Conversation. This film won the Palme D’Or and Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes and was beaten for the Best Picture Oscar in 1975 by another Coppola film, The Godfather Part II.
One of the most striking features of The Conversation is the soundtrack. The haunting piano score by Coppola’s brother-in-law, the prolific David Shire, is supported by Walter Murch’s impressive sound design, where actual sounds take on a persona in the film. Technology has come a long way since the mid-70s and Coppola successfully updated the original magnetic masters to Dolby 5.1 for this version of the film so the soundtrack is better than ever.
Coppola shot The Conversation between the two Godfather films but in fact had written the story in the mid-60s and couldn’t get it financed. Gene Hackman puts in a powerhouse performance as the freelance eavesdropper, Harry Caul, who records people on commission without thinking about the consequences until it is too late. Coppola deftly explores surveillance, privacy and voyeurism and The Conversation stands as one of his most outstanding and complete films.
The Conversation is one of those rare films that grips you from the beginning to the final twist at the end. As well as examining the bigger issues, Coppola manages an intimate character study of obsession and paranoia. Hackman runs around in a cheap plastic grey raincoat which flaps and this, too, forms part of the soundtrack. This is a very contemporary film in light of recent world events. There is a shadowy director, played by the uncredited Robert Duvall, the faithful employee played by a very 70s-looking Harrison Ford and the slimy purveyor of intelligence goods played by Allen Garfield. The entire cast is excellent in this claustrophobic, chilling intelligent thriller.
This was Hollywood at its best when it had a story to tell and told it without compromise and the use of over-the-top special effects such as those seen in later, similar stories like Enemy Of The State. When has a reel-to-reel tape recorder looked so good yet been so menacing? The Conversation was not widely seen when first released in 1974, so now is an opportunity to see a cinematic gem in all its glory on the big screen. Five star films are rare these days so don’t miss this one.