“I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder”.
At the centre of Coppola’s psychological thriller is an immaculate Gene Hackman, whose career-defining performance as surveillance expert Harry Caul is nothing short of captivating (and incidentally the perfect precursor to watching Enemy of the State).
There’s a great hypocrisy at the heart of the character and that’s what makes him so intriguing. Caul is a meticulously private, paranoid man who has made a career spying into other people’s lives. Over the course of the narrative this inner conflict evolves as he begins questioning the morals of his occupation, but also to a higher degree as it is slowly revealed that he’s plagued by a troubled past he’s desperate to forget.
Coppola’s pacing is incredible, his measured approach to the narrative clearly influenced Tomas Alfredson’s stunning 2011 spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The shots linger, but the scenes move at a rapid pace. Jump cuts quickly transport from one location to another creating an uneasy atmosphere. This style reoccurs throughout the film, escalating each time before reaching a beautifully constructed finale. Those climactic sequences are unforgettable.
1974 was quite a year for Francis Ford Coppola. He had made two films that were drawing plaudits from critics and shutting out the competition for the highest acclaim at the awards ceremonies. Unfortunately, The Conversation didn’t win Best Picture at that year’s Oscars. Another Academy injustice? Not when you consider it lost out to Coppola’s second film of that year, The Godfather Part II.