Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Conversation (1974)

So, I guess last week’s post was the official bringing in of the fall film season.  As I stated then, I started out with a bang on Easy A and The Town.  The fall season is typically when many of the awards contenders will make their commercial releases, after premiering at festivals such as Telluride, Toronto, and Venice, which have all taken place within the last month or so.  I am very excited about some of the projects coming out this fall, and expect it to be a great year for movies.

Soon enough I plan on writing up a post on some of my most anticipated for the rest of the year, but for now I wanted to slip in a review of a little film called The Conversation before I get rolling too heavily on the fall film madness. 

I am sad to say that I wasn’t even aware of this film’s existence until about 2 years ago.  It was directed by this guy—you may have heard of him—Francis Ford Coppola?  Yeah, him.  The guy known for making The Godfather films, as well as Apocalypse Now, some of the most celebrated films of all time, yet in the few weeks since I’ve seen The Conversation, it is becoming harder for me to think that it isn’t his best film. 

It stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance guru who’s kind of a loner, and it becomes clearer and clearer as the film gets going that he has some skeletons in his closet that will affect many of his choices the further he goes along.

The direction is breathtaking—forgive me for being trite, but Coppola has quite the eye.  The first scene of the film (which takes place in San Francisco) is a bird’s eye view of Union Square (see picture on left).  We are watching and listening to different groups of people—wondering who we are supposed to be watching.  As Coppola zooms in, we hear “the conversation” going on between a couple—which forms the basis of the entire plot—and then learn that Hackman’s character is bugging them, listening to their every word. 

As he painstakingly plays their conversation over and over throughout the film, intending to solve the mystery, I became increasingly nervous and worried—the conversation, which at first seemed so innocent—starts to become sinister.  A haunting little song—“when the red red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin along”—is used several times, masterfully, as a device to keep the audience on edge. 

Incredible Opening Shot by Coppola
And then there’s the way in which Hackman’s character deals with all of this.  His guilt from whatever past-life we don’t know about seeps its way into the story, so much so that at some points we aren’t sure if what is happening is real or a projection of that guilt.  This is supplemented by his paranoia of the people he is working for, and the combination of these two themes makes for an incredibly intense film.

This film is definitely high-concept art compared to the other three ‘70’s Coppola films that I mentioned above (by the way, has anyone ever made 4 better movies within 7 years?).  But The Conversation seems so personal, so real and warm compared to the chilliness of The Godfather films, for instance.  The style is deliberate but very fitting for the themes portrayed.  An overall fantastic film.  9/10. 

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