Ewan Gleadow

Review: The Conversation (45th Anniversary)

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As far as prestige goes in the world of acting, there’s nobody quite like Gene Hackman. One of the all-time greats, responsible for tremendous dramatic turns in The French Connection and the occasional experimental role in The Royal Tenenbaums, he’s a well-regarded actor and has a classic body of work, chock full of films much like The Conversation.

But, forty-five years on, does it hold up as anything more than just a good Hackman performance? 

I’ve not entirely clicked with the direction of Francis Ford Coppola, I’m one of the few people to not regard The Godfather as a masterpiece.  I much prefer his understated, depressing tones in Apocalypse Now and the tense uncertainty featured here in The Conversation. His utilisation of the camera and how he adapts it to certain scenes throughout is definitely superb, more prominent here than any of his other works.  

What makes The Conversation worth watching though is, as I’d predicted, the strong performance of Gene Hackman. Perhaps the best Hackman performance I’ve seen, managing to overcome the very high bar he’d set himself with his performance in The French Connection. It’s the little things that add together to make his performance truly spectacular: the undescribed guilt his character feels and the way he talks and interacts with others all builds into one another to form a truly outstanding performance. 

The rest of the cast is great also, with the walking urban legend John Cazale featuring prominently throughout. It’s also worth seeing Harrison Ford, pre-Star Wars, if only for the sake of novelty. They’re not stand-out performances though, completely overshadowed and left in the dust by the incredible work Hackman provides. It’s a bit harsh to call him a camera hog, but Hackman’s screen time is lengthy. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve it though, it’s a truly incredible performance.  

There are a handful of problems with The Conversation though, most notably is its wildly unconventional and broadly forgettable plot. Even after watching it, it’s difficult to remember exactly what happened: from what I can remember since the few days have passed since my viewing, I know that it’s a good enough story to keep an audience invested for its runtime.  

Somehow going without a Best Actor nomination, The Conversation, for all its strong lead performance and enjoyable camerawork, seems to be more of a movie you’ll have to uncover on your own than have recommended to you.  While I certainly can’t say I loved it, it was a strong movie for what it was, but it’s lacking in several departments and has a few Coppola tropes that may sit better with other audiences.