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The Conversation

Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation harks back to the days of paranoia, the Kafkaesque aftermath of the hippie movement, when the once free-spirited hedonists were overwhelmed by the belief that the monolithic government was now out to get them. And while there are no longhairs in the film, the hippie spirit permeates throughout. Coppola's story concerns one Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a professional wiretapper. As the film opens he is on assignment in San Francisco's Union Square. He's got a tough task — record the conversation of two people (Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest) as they move through the crowded area. With the aid of several mikes and a troupe of assistants, Caul gets the tapes, and then has to reconstruct the conversation from the pieces. But as he listens to the product, Caul finds himself becoming personally involved in the assignment. The mysterious head of the corporation who hired Caul (Robert Duvall, in a cameo appearance), and his assistant (Harrison Ford, also used just briefly) begin to go after him. And as Coppola's film is told solely through the eyes of Caul, the viewer in the end isn't sure what the big conspiracy is all about. All we know is that Caul is stalked, betrayed, and finally reduced to a paranoid heap, reduced to finding bugs that have been placed to bug the bugger. Caul is an unusual character, something of a passive precursor to Hackman's character in Enemy of the State. Nonetheless, it's one of the performances for which he will be best remembered. Paramount previously released a Laserdisc version of The Conversation, but it was a full-frame transfer with a mono track, so we won't be digging that one out anytime soon. The subsequent DVD edition is, to say the least, a vast improvement. With an anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1), the print is a little scratchy at the beginning and at some reel changes, but otherwise it looks pleasant. Additionally, audio supervisor Walter Murch helped oversee the new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. But the most significant extra on this release is a commentary track by Coppola, who seems to warming up to the recording booth. As with Paramount's previous Tucker: The Man and His Dream, the director is still as excited about the movie now as he was then, and he gives a detailed account of the film and its making, but even more important its meaning. An additional commentary with Murch is something of a disappointment — it's not all that informative, and in fact it's a little boring, making Murch a sound-guy who sounds dull. The rest of the extras on this release include a brief, interesting "making-of" featurette called "Close-up on The Conversation" and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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