Aneesh Chaganty

Movie #108 The Conversation

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 6:59 AM

Movie #108 The Conversation

(1974, US, d. Francis Ford Coppola)

I stumbled upon a review of this film in a “501 movies You Must See Before You Die” book a friend of mine gave to me. I didn’t read the review but took the recommendation. Released the same year as The Godfather Part II, the post production of this film didn’t recieve much attention from Coppola himself since he was busy working on his masterpiece (and understandably so). Therefore, it was left to the late great editor Walter Murch to put the film together as well as mix the audio for the film, for which there is plenty of work to get done. The first thing that stuck out to me was how relevant this movie still was today. Movies that have technology-centric plots tend to be outdated within a couple of years but the reason this film does not is because it is about something far better. It stars Gene Hackman as surveillance expert Harry Caul, a reticent and socially awkward man whose one regret in life causes him to research his current assignment more than his employers would him to. He discovers a secret that creates a wonderful (from an audience’s perspective) dilemna that is mulled over subtly throughout the film. Should Harry maintain his professionalism and simply continue to observe events through a glass window, with the mentality that they are beyond his care or control? Or should he, depending on the information, take an active part if that means saving a life? The answer may seem simple to us. But the character’s complexities and the script’s mysteries probe that question very well. It’s also always a pleasant surprise when the style of filmmaking complements the plot. Coppola, save for a few tender and personal moments, never allows the audience to come close to Caul. Instead we always watch his professsional maneuvers through our lens – as if we are the surveillers and he is our subject. Rather than shooting the inside of a room where Caul is having a business conversation, Coppola sets his camera across the hall, looking through a glass window. All these point to the fact that if we are surveillers (or at least looking through someone else’s cameras) there must be something in store for Caul that he does not expect (i.e. a twist at the end). And there is. But it’s not handled in a usual Hollywood manner. The climax of the film is not pleasing or even resolute for that matter. Rather, it points a finger to the irony of the whole situation. For the fact that Caul had intervened not only did nothing to change the tragic events that were alluded to, but it also brought a careful and calculated destruction to Caul’s own life, thereby raising the question: What happened to “there’s no harm in trying”?


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