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 as I watched this film, 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 these films, 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.
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 Fred Topel called it an “outdated techno-thriller,” which summed up my thoughts nicely.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.