The Conversation [Blu-Ray]

Francis Ford Coppola

BY John SemleyPublished Nov 1, 2011

When mapping the high watermarks of American filmmaking in the '70s, The Conversation tends to get lost in the shuffle between Coppola's other major tent-pole films: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. Certainly, The Conversation is smaller than those massively budgeted blockbusters, focusing exclusively on a freelance surveillance expert (Gene Hackman) as his day-to-day life is consumed by paranoid glances over his shoulder, with its nods to Watergate and political spy intrigue being largely incidental, and unimportant, to the film's many pleasures. In interviews and commentaries bundled with this Blu-Ray package, Coppola refers to The Conversation as a "personal film" – as if The Godfather films weren't about the machinations at play in the Coppola dynasty itself – which he believes outstrips many of the works he's "better known for." And, indeed, there's a clarity of vision in The Conversation that's wildly different and more idiosyncratic than Coppola's Vietnam nightmare or his ornate Mafioso triptych – and minimalism as well. But the austerity in Coppola's sketch of a man – Hackman's Harry Caul – who becomes entrenched in the fog of scandal after becoming obsessed with a conversation he was hired to record, and its potential implications for the conversing couple and himself, crescendos into an expressionistic final reel. Indebted (not least of all in its premise and plotting) to Antonioni's Blow-Up, The Conversation feels more like the "European"-style films the New Hollywood filmmakers of Coppola's generation were driving at, more so than anything since Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971). But like the Godfather films, or even Apocalypse Now, The Conversation works through the tropes of the political potboiler in a way that's both reverent, radical and utterly, absolutely unique. Tense, spooky and affecting, The Conversation is well worth revisiting.

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