Amazingly The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, lost out in the Best Picture category at the 1974 Oscars to another Coppola directed film. However, that film did happen to be The Godfather Part II.
Almost lost between the two titanic Godfather films The Conversation feels more understated and introverted. The simplicity and minimalism of this film makes it arguably Coppola’s best.
The Blu-ray release breathes volumes of life back into this underrated psychological thriller. The plot focuses on Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a private surveillance expert who hires his services to clients on a confidential basis.
We follow Harry, as he eavesdrops on a couple in a busy public square using an array of surveillance equipment. This is the titular conversation, which is repeated throughout the film on Harry’s tape recorder.
Harry listens to it obsessively, attempting to understand the meaning of the conversation – does it suggest something more sinister about the client’s intentions? This suspicion grows after a visit to the client’s office where an edgy young assistant (Harrison Ford) warns Harry not to get involved.
Lonely and becoming more obsessed with the recording, Harry becomes distrusting toward his colleagues and friends. To make matters worse, the client now has Harry under surveillance, adding to his paranoia.
Convinced that the couple in the recording will be murdered, Harry is lead to a seedy hotel and into a new level of fear and terror. Hackman plays this to perfection, leaving you as distrustful as the character throughout every scene.
The ending is sublime in its simplicity and leaves you, like Harry, questioning everything you have just seen. The entire message of the conversation is revealed in a chilling twist.
This High Def re-release, unlike many other films of this era, benefits greatly from increased picture and sound quality. The focus on audio clarity in the film translates well in the sharp re-mastered soundtrack; the hisses and crackles of Harry’s recording make it even more haunting.
Similarly, the visual quality creates a strong cinematic feel in a film that, on first impressions, could be mistaken for a TV movie. This all boosts the visual message of the film and the psychological breakdown and paranoia of Hackman’s excellent performance.
If anything, this Blu-ray re-lease of The Conversation serves to remind us of the privacy invading technology in modern life. With the phone hacking scandal still fresh in the public conscience, The Conversation almost feels like a premonition, perhaps more relevant today than ever before.