Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION is a towering achievement, a masterfully constructed portrait of one man's descent into madness. Gene Hackman delivers a devastating performance as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who gets paid to invade the privacy of strangers. The film's classic opening shot is a long, slow zoom into Union Square in San Francisco, as a young couple, Mark (Frederic Forrest) and Ann (Cindy Williams), are having what seems like an otherwise mundane conversation. However, when it is revealed that Harry and his assistant Stanley (John Cazale) are eavesdropping from a nearby van, it becomes clear that something more serious is happening. Later, after Harry painstakingly reconstructs the conversation from several different audio sources, he uncovers a snippet of dialogue that unsettles him. Suspicious of his client's motives for wanting the tape, Harry becomes uncharacteristically worried about the people he may have endangered, sending him into a dangerous mental tailspin.
With Harry Caul, Coppola and Hackman have managed to create one of cinema's most unforgettable characters, a man who appears to be in control on the outside but who is, in fact, crumbling on the inside. Though Teri Garr, Harrison Ford, and Allen Garfield deliver standout supporting turns, THE CONVERSATION is Hackman's show. Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW UP (1966), THE CONVERSATION in turn went on to influence Brian De Palma's own surveillance thriller, BLOW OUT (1981).
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