The Conversation (1974) Starring Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth McRae.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Running time: 113 minutes.
Surveillance man for hire Harry Caul (Hackman) and his sidekick Stan (Cazale) keep track of a young couple (Forrest & Williams) for a wealthy businessman (Duvall). He comes to suspect that foul play may enter into the situation as the businessman’s slimeball assistant (Ford) curtly pushes Caul out of the situation thanking him and paying him off.
Caul, a man who cherishes his own privacy whilst routinely violating that of others takes an uncharacteristic interest in the details of the work he has just done. He begins spying on the businessman and the young couple on his own finally at the end discovering what the context for the taped conversation he made really is.
The real arc of the main character is thus largely shown in the last ten minutes.
He finds out what really happened, is mortified then panics. Then his mood seems to change.
Instead of being dated like most fare from the early 1970s this title is actually more relevant now than it was then. It shows the “new normal” of what privacy has become via the ending of this film, which imagined what that might soon be.
Americans had re-elected Nixon amidst a scandal in which he would come to be seen as complicit in a plot to bug the offices of Democratic Party headquarters then cover it up afterward. The scandal did not make Nixon’s Democratic Party opponent George McGovern electable. It merely made voters more cynical and suspicious as to what their government was doing.
It also shows you what a leading man in the 1970s was. Hackman, while tall and physically powerful is hardly what one might consider classically handsome or appealing in any sense really. But that was what directors were looking for at the time i.e. people who could pass for one of the rest of us.
Harrison Ford, now a Hollywood legend and (from a commercial standpoint) one of the greatest leading men ever is relegated to the role of snobbish and effete minion to the baddie. Even after a dozen years in Tinseltown he still had not made it as a star and had to content himself to supporting roles in features and guest shots on TV.