So an egoist who behaves quite selfishly while he is on top of his industry loses his advantage. Just before doing so, he meets a stalker-ish woman, who has aspirations to fame in his field. Their encounter is brief, but it sticks in her head, and he seems inclined towards infidelity should life not change so precipitously. She rises. He falls. They both display ugliness in their respective processes. He becomes increasingly self-absorbed and pitying, until his wife, colleagues, and admirers leave him and he is left alone (except for the dog). She demonstrates a penchant for insensitivity, and for obsession with the man that she had one rare encounter with. He tries to annihilate himself. She grows frantic to save him. Nobody earns any empathy (except for the dog). Then there’s a fancy dance scene to wrap it all up and communicate that these two narcissists are going to prosper despite the age of movie sound. This was Hollywood’s best for 2011?
The one spot that actually contained artistry (other than the dog’s scenes) was the beautiful nightmare sequence, when sound invades Valentin’s silent universe. The selection of sounds to amplify collaborated perfectly with the decision to keep his voice muted. The all too brief moment verged on the surreal and remained haunting. A more interesting movie would have kept along that path. It would have found out what happens as sound comes limping imperfectly, dangerously into the world of a performer who has never had use for it nor knowledge of how to use it to effect. But then we wouldn’t have needed so many tricks from the dog.
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.