It didn’t speak to me
The critically acclaimed 1974 film, The Conversation, starring the brilliant Gene Hackman, is Apple TV’s movie of the week. Several months ago, Eric gave me a copy of this movie on DVD and insisted that I watch it. His encouragements have been growing increasingly strenuous, and so I figured that the ‘movie of the week’ coincidence made a viewing imperative. Last night, I popped up a bowl of popcorn, dropped the disc of this thriller into my player, and sat back to enjoy what has been hailed as a masterpiece psychological thriller constructed by Francis Ford Coppola.
You needn’t worry about any spoilers here. I don’t know what happened in the final thirty-eight minutes, and I regret letting the first hour and fifteen minutes pass before shutting the thing off. The plot unfolds with the urgency of a sociophobe getting in a Karaoke queue. Hackman is beautifully understated as Harry Caul, but the blatant irony of a star surveillance freelancer paranoid about his own privacy is, alone, not enough to hang a performance, much less a movie, on. Moreover, Hackman’s nuance gets crushed by overstated performances bashing away all around him. The final scene – that I saw – in Harry’s office is a piteous parade of acting that proves Hackman’s genius through contrast, while bludgeoning the viewer with obvious cliches. And what is Harrison Ford doing? Coppola should have let him grow a handlebar mustache and twirl the ends of it while snickering if Ford was going to unleash that much melodramatic behavior upon his scenes.
Meh. I am clearly in the minority with this dissenting opinion. Several friends assured me what a splendid movie this is. More, The Conversation holds a 98% / 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and my detraction puts me in critical company with about.com’s reviewer. Yet that reviewer is right: it doesn’t hold up as a techno-thriller, except as an “I told you so” exercise in nostalgia for the information age. On January 23rd of this year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Jones that police must obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle. I think that all of us in this age of fluid data understand that the decision will need to be refined by future contests, only satisfying both law enforcement and rights to privacy once legal opinion on such circumstances reaches a level of sophistication analogous to Hackman’s performance. Conflicting rationales within the justice’s ostensibly uniform opinion tells us this. Given our present understanding, the broad judicial stroke is obvious and good enough for now. But it won’t last. Just like The Conversation.