Gene Hackman is not well-known for his neurotic, somewhat paranoid or even timid roles. The Conversation showcases that side of Hackman though and he is fantastic. He plays a man employed by individuals or corporations to get evidence and recordings of conversations, so they can be used against or in support of legal claims (or perhaps blackmail). As the film opens, Hackman is capturing the conversation from the title.
Its a fantastic look at a completely different world and although you aren’t necessarily entirely sure what is happening from the outset, the process is fascinating. It opens up a whole new world to explore, full of possibilities and as the film progresses, this profession and the others that do it, are fleshed-out and developed.
The film really a mystery though. Hackman’s Harry Caul is the best at what he does but he is haunted by a case which led to tragedy and this recording looks to be going the same way. What The Conversation then becomes is a conspiracy thriller. What is the recording for? What are they talking about? Why would anyone want it? The process of answering these questions is the main focus of the movie, although at times you wouldn’t realise it.
If The Conversation was made today, the studios would have insisted on a tighter, more focused and more direct conspiracy which unfolds at a pace that the audience can easily follow. There is nothing confusing about The Conversation and the central mystery, but it takes its time to deliver it and the first half of the movie is slow and seemingly aimless, as we get a picture of who Harry Caul is, rather than any real concern about the conspiracy at all.
Once the movie moves into solving the mystery it becomes utterly compelling. Drip-fed clues, fantastic revelations and some great red herrings all set the mystery up perfectly. What’s better is the fact that unlike most which build to a grand revelation, The Conversation’s is perfect and will shock most who won’t figure out the very clever conclusion.
Overall, The Conversation is arguably Hackman at his best. He isn’t playing the brutish, loud and angry character he becomes known for but instead someone much more neurotic and obsessive in a movie which delivers a very well-written conspiracy and thriller. A slow first half will test some but its worth sticking around for the engrossing second half and the great finale.
Rating – 4
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