The Conversation is a character study of a professional who has a closed personality. His job involves secretly taping conversations, working with a partner, and occasionally mingling with fellow surveillance agents. But when a situation begins to sound sinister, he gets more involved. Becoming a master at his job is slowly costing him the price of paranoia and the film is equally suspenseful and fascinating in watching his state of mind transform.
Portraying the subject is Gene Hackman as Harry. The role requires him to be introverted and overly cautious. His performance displays a good understanding of that. With other characters including his girlfriend, Harry discloses very little about his work. Among the cast is the late John Cazale as Stan, another surveillance expert or “bugger” who is more sociable and grows concerned for Harry. Not much is known about him or Harry’s other colleagues. Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall have brief but important appearances. And there is a sharp twist of events that isn’t easy to foresee. Accompanying the events is a piano score by David Shire that nuances the spiraling mind of the protagonist. Cinematography by Bill Butler includes long, wide shots to build suspense and generate concern about whether Harry is being watched. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the Conversation is an achievement in many categories particularly in Hackman’s portrayal of a man who is gradually worn out by the inner conflict between his virtues and his profession.