The Conversation (Blu-ray)
Director - Francis Ford Coppola
Cast - Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Harrison Ford
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $24.99
Distributor - Lionsgate
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (5/5)
It can be very easily said that the 70's is one of, if not the greatest decade for film in the entire existence of the medium. Of course, a lot of the 70's greatest films occurred due to the New Hollywood movement, a group of filmmakers, inspired by the European New Wave filmmakers of the late 50's, and early 60's. The New Hollywood movement got it's start with Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, but really took off in the next decade with directors ranging from Peter Bogdanovich, and John Cassavetes to Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola was much more mainstream than a lot of the other New Hollywood director's, and by the end of the decade was probably 2nd in popularity Star Wars/American Graffiti director George Lucas, that being said his films essentially ruled the decade bookending the period with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. However, between the Godfather and Godfather Part II, he made a little film definitely inspired by the European films of the 60's (The Melville influence is very apparent) with Gene Hackman called The Conversation.
This film seems to be something of a secret masterpiece in Coppola's oeuvre, and while many of his fans speak about it with the reverence it truly deserves, in the mainstream it was completely overshadowed by the 2 Godfather films. I am not going to say it betters either of the 2, however, I will say it is definitely a masterpiece of 70's cinema on it's own. Containing some of Coppola's finest direction, and excellent performances all around.
The film stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul a surveillance expert living in San Francisco. He has recently taken on a case where he must record a young professional couple walking around San Francisco's noisy Union Square. He accomplishes the job, and mixes the audio out of the recording, but begins to get suspicious of turning it over to the client who hired him for the job, who he only knows as the director (Robert Duvall).
Harry is still dealing with guilt due to the repercussions of turning in a prior recording, when he lived in New York City half a decade prior, and suspects that this recording might prove to cause the same results. The film goes from being an almost Melville like procedural film to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller as Harry attempts to decode the meaning behind the messages on the tape in an attempt to prevent a similar fate from befalling the young couple.
The Conversation really shows Francis Ford Coppola in his prime. A director who really has come into his own as a master filmmaker over all the elements of his production. And while I say the film bears the stamp of influence from director's who came before, The Conversation is 100% Coppola film making. The level of tension, and suspense he creates through the use of the repeated use of Union Square footage, paired with the intense performance from the always superb Gene Hackman and the truly sublime atmospheric piano score by David Shire, and the cinematography of Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler really come together to create one of the greatest suspense films of the early 70's.
Lionsgate in conjunction with American Zoetrope have released Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation upon the world in a glorious 1:78:1 1080p transfer. I have not seen the Conversation since a 90's VHS rental, so anything would be an improvement over that viewing, that being said that Blu-ray is quite the stunner. This is the kind of transfer that makes me love Blu-ray as a format, as it really shows that this is a FILM, and not a digital item. The Conversation has probably not looked this good since it was projected for the first time in the early 70's.
The level of detail is excellent, colors pop, and flesh tones are accurate. The black levels are deep, and there is a healthy level of film grain over the transfer. The only negative points are some print issues with the Union Square footage which seems to be an intentional move on the part of Coppola who used a variety of different stocks to emulate the lock of surveillance footage, and a few soft spots throughout the film.
The audio is of similarly excellent quality and is presented with 2 options a mono DTS-HD 2.0 track, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, both are excellent, but being a purist for my viewing I stuck with the 2.0 track. The dialogue was crisp and clear throughout the film. The music and effects were well balanced, I could not detect any sort of audio imperfections on the tracks.
Lionsgate has gone all out in creation a truly special edition for their release of the Conversation. The disc kicks off with an excellent, and informative commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola. We then have a commentary by editor Walter Murch. We then get to the visual side of the extras with Close-Up on the Conversation a 9 minute studio piece that shows some behind the scenes work on the film. We then have a series of screen test the first by Cindy Williams the next by Harrison Ford.
This is followed up by No Cigar a 2 minute student short film made in 1956 by a young Francis Ford Coppola. We then get Harry Caul's San Francisco Then and Now a 4 minute piece comparing and contrasting locations from the film as they were then, and what they're like now. Then we have an 11 minute interview with Conversation composer David Shire conducted by Coppola himself. There is also a 4 minute archival interview with Gene Hackman from 1973 discussing the role of Harry Caul, and what is quite possibly the most interesting extra on the disc Script Dictation from Francis Ford Coppola, it is roughly 50 minutes of Coppola reading off the script as he's writing, while pages and clips from the film appear on screen. Finally, we have the films theatrical trailer in HD.
One of Francis Ford Coppola's finest hours finally makes it's way to BD, and in an extras packed special edition with an absolutely glorious transfer. A must-buy, highly recommended.