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  • Writer's pictureBig Rick Stuart

On Its 50th Anniversary, Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ Offers a Searing Vision of Then, and Now

Two years after he leapt to the forefront of the New Hollywood with The Godfather, and just months before he picked up the threads of that operatic crime saga with the magnificent sequel/prequel The Godfather Part II, Francis Ford Coppola released a quiet movie, one in which sound itself — and, more specifically, its surreptitious recording — is the narrative engine. Arriving during a particularly fertile era for American film, The Conversation was not a hit, but it is one of the period’s most subtle and shattering features. Half a century later, it resounds as hauntingly as ever, not merely as a cautionary tale but as a searing portrait of where we are now.

Occupying a realm between the trippy hothouse vibe of Blowup and the thriller machinations of De Palma, Coppola’s take is a sublime distillation. Its cast of ’70s luminaries includes John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Teri Garr, Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall, led by an exquisite, muffled gut punch of a performance from Gene Hackman as the tightly contained surveillance whiz.

Harry is in the midst of a particularly challenging assignment, recording a couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams, in a very different mode from the kooky cutie-pie she would soon become on Laverne & Shirley) as they move through the lunchtime hubbub of a public park, San Francisco’s Union Square.

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