The Conversation (1974)

Theconversation

Genre: Thriller

Cast: Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall

Synopsis: An audio surveillance specialist becomes obsessed with a recording he has made after he suspects that the subjects in the recording will be murdered.

I once dated a musician. One day we got onto a conversation about movies and he told me that when he watches a movie the first thing he notices is the soundtrack or the use of sound. At the time I thought it was a bit strange; if you’re watching a movie, surely you should be focusing on what you’re seeing. Looking back on it now, I see that he made an interesting point. Music and sound can affect a person just as deeply as what he or she sees and this little treat from Francis Ford Coppola proves it.

The Conversation is the perfect example of how sound can be utilised in film to elicit emotional responses from the audience. Everything you hear in this movie, whether it’s a melancholy saxophone solo or incessant early electronica shrieking, manipulates your emotions and they go in all sorts of crazy directions: sadness, disgust, pity. When you’re baked, it’s easier to be swayed by sounds because your senses feel heightened….much like Halle Berry’s when that cat burps into her mouth in Catwoman. As a result of the emotional to-and-fro, I never felt at ease. I was constantly tense which is what you really want when watching a thriller.

Although complex and unnerving, the film was also surprisingly stylish and it is presented with the same old-world San Francisco charm that Vertigo had. In some ways, I feel as though this film is an homage to Vertigo but it does for sound what Hitchcock’s masterpiece did for visuals. Not only that, but The Conversation’s twist ending is equally as fucked as the one in Vertigo. When the twist was revealed, I laughed. I didn’t laugh because it was funny or stupid. Quite the contrary, the twist is so brilliantly simplistic that you’ll kick yourself for not guessing it sooner. I laughed because sometimes in life, laughing is all you can do. It’s the only appropriate response you can give.

If I had to level one criticism at the film it was that the main character (brilliantly played by Hackman) felt rather wet. I read one review which referred to him as a great tragic hero. What happens to the character is certainly tragic but I wouldn’t call him a hero. This is a guy who gets his jollies listening in on other people and banging 70s skanks with an inordinate amount of side-boob going on. I suppose the lack of character likeability makes this film more challenging and ultimately more interesting; it’s hard to root for someone who listens in on other people’s conversations.

High-lights:

  • An audio orgasm.
  • Great twist ending.
  • Check out that authentic 70s side-boob.
  • Harrison Ford looks really sexy in a suit.
  • I love Hackman’s see-through rain coat but it kind of made him look like some sort of paedophile.

Downers:

  • The scene with the toilet was one of the most traumatic things I have ever seen in a movie.
  • I’m not sure if I liked Hackman’s character. He’s portrayed as a tragic here but part of me wonders if he was just a pathetic person.

Summary:

The Conversation is a neat thriller that will appeal to people who enjoy engrossing plots and clever plot twists…the kind of plot twists a certain director used to include in his movies before the fame went to his head and before he met the Smith family. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys examining sound in movies then this film is a must because the film is essentially sound editing in movies 101. Watch it and learn something.

9/10

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4 Comments

Filed under Great, Thriller

4 responses to “The Conversation (1974)

  1. This is one of my all time favorite movies!

  2. Great review! I just re-watched this movie a few months back, one of the best!

  3. Nice review man. Cazale is so good in this, but that toilet scene is the stuff that nightmares are made of haha!

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