The Conversation Blu-ray Review

Between the grand crime epics of The Godfather and its sprawling sequel, director Francis Ford Coppola squeezed in this very personal, intimate small scale slow burning thriller. It’s a low key gem of a film that despite being one of the very finest films of the ‘70s it also sadly seems to be one of the most over looked. Perhaps because it is bookended by the Corleone family, but this outstanding piece of filmmaking deserves just as much praise – if not more.

Gene Hackman gives what I would argue as his greatest screen performance as surveillance expert Harry Caul. The film opens on a wide shot of a busy afternoon in a New York park but the camera slowly zooms in on some of the characters within this park, in particular a young couple who are being watched by Caul. We hear the audio frequencies picking up on snippets of conversation and we slowly discover that Caul has been hired to record the two lovers (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams). The reason why is unclear and Caul, very professionally, is not interested. For him it is just another job, that is, until he suspects that something more sinister is about to happen because of the results of his work.

This is very much a character piece, and Hackman turns restraint into an art form as the private, reclusive protagonist. The entire film revolves from his point of view in that we do not discover anything more than what Caul knows. As the mystery unfolds we are with him all the way and we do gradually become attached to this odd, awkward and emotionally aloof individual. In support there is some good work from a sleazy Harrison Ford and a short but bittersweet turn from Teri Garr. Whilst there’s no escaping the Corleone family as Robert Duvall and John Cazale also provide their rich talents and loyalty to the director.

Beyond Hackman’s central performance, one of the real stars of the production is film and sound editor Walter Murch who layers the film with a gradual soundscape that provides the thrust of the story. The conversation is looped and re-arranged so that every time we (and Caul) hear the track a different meaning can be picked from it. Coppola shoots the whole film with a suitable coldness and at times it feels as if we are watching through surveillance cameras. David Shire provides a moody, jazzy soundtrack that adds to the odd ambience of the film. It’s a film that harks back to a time when a solid thriller can be made without a single bullet being fired. The closing sequence is haunting.

Commentary with Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola is always a very welcome commentator on his work and he talks at length about every detail of production. It’s insightful and enjoyable and Coppola covers aspects such as the casting (Hackman was a bit troubled on set as he got very into character), the editing and the writing process. He also talks at length about his other films including the surprise success of The Godfather. It’s a very nice commentary from a rather charming host.

Commentary with Walter Much

This is an interesting commentary from the editor and sound mixer of the film, Walter Murch. It’s based very much at the technical scope but as the film is one of the greatest sound edited films ever then it’s a bonus to hear from the master behind it all. He also gives a little clue as to the mystery of the films ending.

Cindy Williams Screen Test

Williams reads for the role eventually given to Teri Garr. She’s good but the final casting decisions were right as Williams comes across as a little young and suits the role she ended up with better.

Harrison Ford Screen Test

Ford screen tests with Williams for the role that eventually went to Forrester. Ford’s quite quirky here but the smarmy role he gets in the film suits him best.

No Cigar

Coppola discusses a short film he made as a student which has similarities to The Conversation. We see a bit of the film with Coppola commentating over. 

David Shire Interviewed by Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola and composer Shire seem to be very good friends still and this is a lovely interview. Shire admits that this is the score that he has had the most work because of and the two of them share a song at the end. A wonderful score it is as well, which Coppola played snippets of to his actors whilst they were on set to understand the mood of the scene. It certainly seemed to pay off.

Then & Now

A nicely shot look at the locations within the film and how they look now. Shire’s score accompanies the piece.

Gene Hackman Interview

It’s a shame that Hackman is very much missing from the extras on this blu-ray with the exception of this interview from the star in 1973. Still, it’s an interesting discussion from the great actor.

Close-Up on The Conversation

This is a ten minute short of footage from the shoot. It’s nice to see Coppola very passionately directing his actors.

Script Dictations from Francis Ford Coppola

Bit of a bizarre feature this one. Before the feature was filmed, Coppola dictated the entire script into a recorder and it is replayed here with excerpts of the script and scenes from the film shown onscreen. Includes some scenes that didn’t make the final film.


“Be careful Harry. You are only supposed to listen.” – Very cheesy trailer that gives away the ending. Why do they do that?

Overall, a great film that deserves its place amongst the great American films of the ‘70s. The extras are very good and Coppola doesn’t leave any details out but it would have been nice to have some sort of retrospective from the actors, in particular the now retired Hackman.

Stewart McLaren

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