Sunday, September 7, 2014
Retro Review: The Conversation (1974)
A Highly Haunting Thriller That Is One To Be Part of the Essential Film 'Conversation'
Sound is something that usually enhances a film-watching experience. It is rare, however, when sound is what drives a film's story. The Conversation is one of those rare films that has sound, like the musical score, driving its story forward and making the film engaging through its sheer simplicity.
The Conversation follows the story of a surveillance expert named Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) who is order to observe a couple and listen to their conversation. However, one thing the man in the couple says is hidden by the sound of music and Harry tries to analyze it. Once he does, he then finds himself more obsessed and feelings of guilt over a past case begin to haunt him.
One thing that I really loved was how the film gives us quite a demonstration of our main character. We see that Harry is not only a recluse by the way he presents himself to others but his home as well. He has no telephone in his house and his front door is padded with locks, which shows just how paranoid he is. Yet the audience isn't very uneasy about being on his side since Gene Hackman makes for a very sympathetic character even though in his guilt-ridden moments, he doesn't play the part for pity. So, Gene Hackman creates a really complex character with Harry Caul. Another actor I'd like to bring up is John Cazale, who plays Harry's partner Stan, who becomes increasingly agitated with Harry's social withdrawal. Cazale plays a character that is a bit sunnier than Fredo from The Godfather, who is much more timid and I thought Cazale had a great supporting presence. It is quite amazing how he had both this and The Godfather: Part II the very same year.
I also really liked the film's score by David Shire. It is very haunting and helps the film use sound to drive itself forward. The film is very based on its sound, whether it'd be the musical score or when Harry plays back tapes of the conversations he records. Speaking of which, those are some of my favorite scenes. The scenes where Harry is listening to the main couple's conversation are quite intense since Harry is trying to dig deep into what they are saying and the music helps elevate the suspense. Like I said, the sound is what really helps the film drive. I feel that is because the film has a rather quiet tone yet I would say that kind of tone is what makes this film rather different from other thrillers. Plus, it really gives the film quite a level of unnerving simplicity.
Overall, The Conversation is a rather quietly intense paranoid thriller that features a uniquely commanding performance by Gene Hackman. This film manages to give a haunting feel through the use of its score and tapes played back over and over yet I was just hooked.
Would I Recommend It?
If you are a fan of director Francis Ford Coppola, then I would say absolutely. This is one of his more underrated films and if you like his work or if you like thrillers, I would put this high on your watch list.