I’ve wanted to see “The Conversation” for years, and with the pandemic raging I was able to catch up on a number of 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 amazing films, and usually they live up to the billing. But some of the films that seemed ahead of their time in that decade just don’t age as well.
I was bored with this one, even though the story throws in some interesting twists.
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 Evert loved it, but the slow pace was too much too overcome.
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.
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.
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.