Tag: The Conversation

Movie Flashback: “The Conversation” (1974)

The Conversation

I’ve wanted to see “The Conversation” for years, and with the pandemic raging I was able to catch up on a number of older movies I had wanted to see. I had high expectations for this one, and frankly I came away a little disappointed.

Some movies just don’t age well, and that’s sometimes true with movies from the 70s. The decade was loaded with brilliant films, and they often live up to their reputation, even after decades have passed. But some of the films that seemed ahead of their time in that decade don’t hold up as well.

I was bored with this one, even though the story throws in some interesting twists. The pacing is painfully slow, which is common from films of that era. And I can often appreciate the slower pacing of the films of that era, particularly compared to the sensory overload we sometimes experience with many modern films. But too many of the scenes in “The Conversation” seemed unnecessarily long. I kept waiting for the story to move along, and by the time we reached the twists at the end I was just waiting for the film to end.

The story behind the film is interesting, and one comes away impressed with the direction of Francis Ford Coppola and the acting by Gene Hackman and John Cazale. Roger Ebert loved it, but the slow pace was too much too overcome to get into the story.

Ebert writes:

Coppola, who wrote and directed, considers this film his most personal project. He was working two years after the Watergate break-in, amid the ruins of the Vietnam effort, telling the story of a man who places too much reliance on high technology and has nightmares about his personal responsibility. Harry Caul is a microcosm of America at that time: not a bad man, trying to do his job, haunted by a guilty conscience, feeling tarnished by his work.

Ebert provides some excellent perspective, and as a work of art the film is brilliant. Less so, however, as a work of entertainment.

“The Conversation” was nominated for “Best Picture” in 1975, the same year that “The Godfather, Part II” took home the Academy Award. Coppola had quite a year! Yet “The Godfather, Part II” was so much more entertaining than this film.

I realize I’m in the minority in my opinion of this film. Reading the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with a fresh score of 97% from the critics, it seems as if each of them are trying to outdo one another in heaping praise on this film. I only found two critics that agreed with me. Fred Topel called it an “outdated techno-thriller,” which summed up my thoughts nicely. The other, John Simon from Esquire Magazine, noted, “The icy fascination soon succumbs to two forms of excess. One is Coppola’s growing infatuation with the technical aspects of his subject… The other is a mystery story that thickens into ever greater contrivance, improbability, and opacity.”

The critics who praised the film often citing the building tension and suspense. Sadly, I experience growing boredom and impatience.

I can only recommend this film to cinephiles and wannabe film critics who need to see this as an important film of the 70s. I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable or gripping film experience.

I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale

Can you name all the major actors from the “Godfather” movies? If you’re missing one, it’s probably John Cazale. He played the initially minor character of Fredo, the tragic runt of the gangster litter who figured so prominently in “The Godfather: Part II.” An accomplished stage actor, Cazale appeared in only five moves before his death from lung cancer in 1978 at age 42, but since they also included “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Conversation” and “The Deer Hunter” — all nominated for Best Picture Oscars — it is slightly strange he isn’t better known. It’s definitely not for lack of esteem from his peers. This short HBO documentary from director Richard Shepard (“The Matador“) proves that point with testimonials from friends, colleagues and fans including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Gene Hackman, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Meryl Streep, who was Cazale’s girlfriend at his death. It seems that, aside from his ability to submerge himself into a role and raise the game of his fellow actors, the unglamorous and good-natured Cazale also had a way with beautiful women.

Though the packaging of this DVD is first-rate if overly elaborate, it also attempts to hide the fact that “I Knew It Was You” is only 40 minutes long, not counting about an hour’s worth of special features. Nevertheless, this is a sincere, well-made, and entirely laudable labor of movie love.

Click to buy “I Knew It Was You: Redisocovering John Cazale”

Happy birthday, Mr. Hackman

The acting great, who retired recently to write historical novels full time, turns eighty today. I ran a salute to him some time ago, but it’s time for a bit of a reprise. I don’t think there’s any doubt the Gene Hackman is one of the very best we’ve seen. Few have done as good a job of keeping things simple, and that’s about as difficult a trick as there is for any artist.

A Farewell to Gene Hackman

Don’t worry, Gene Hackman, is still very much amongst the living. It’s just that the 79 year-old Hackman casually discussed his retirement from acting in favor of writing historical novels while talking to Taylor Antrim of the Daily Beast today. (H/t Anne Thompson) Of course, there’s always the chance some great director can lure the Hemingway-loving Hackman out of retirement for the right role, but I’m going to assume he’s for real about giving up acting and thank him for all the great  — sometimes better than great — work.

Without ever really being an Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers-style acting chameleon, Hackman had one of the most amazing ranges of any actors of his era. He played thoroughly screwed up antiheroes, serious and comical villains of innumerable types, and ocasionally simply nice and/or likable guys. He was equally interesting playing all of them — even the nice ones. No doubt one of the best ever.

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