Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation revolves around a brief but very important exchange of dialogue between two strangers in a crowded park, recorded by unseen surveillance experts. But the real conversation, at least from what I felt, was one that the introverted main character has with himself, one of guilt, conflict and paranoia. The introverted protagonist is Harry Caul, played by Gene Hackman in one of the film’s surprises, for we are used to this actor in abrasively alpha, outspoken, charismatic leads. Caul is a pensive, restless, reclusive fellow who dutifully does his job, and does it very well too but we always get the sense that he’d rather be somewhere else and is somehow broken inside. The first thread of his unravelling is pulled when surveillance on the aforementioned conversation in the park picks up a brief swath of dialogue implying murder, or at least the attempt thereof. Caul is now at loggerheads with himself between delivering the audio footage to a shady operative (Harrison Ford playing against type as quite sinister) working for someone known as The Director (I won’t spoil this cameo because it’s too juicy) or keeping it to himself and potentially saving two innocent lives. I wouldn’t necessarily call this film a thriller, at least not in the traditional sense. There are moments of intrigue, shocking violence and certainly a good deal of suspense, but the most effective aspects are the shrouded nature of Caul as a character and how he interacts with those around him including mouthy coworker Stan (John Cazale), even mouthier business rival Bernie (Allen Garfield) and others. He’s a very religious man which obviously clashes with the frequently clandestine and often dangerous nature of his work, providing fascinating conflict. The key moment of the film is an eerie dream sequence complete with a fleet of fog machines and very tricky camera angles in which Harry follows the female target of his surveillance mission, trying to tell her details of his personal life, warn her of impending danger and just simply level with her. This is an important scene because it’s the only time he actually verbally communicates with someone he’s hired to bug, and perhaps this is the core of what has broken him: human interaction relegated largely to wire taps, cameras, vans parked around the corner and informal, all seeing secrecy. That can’t be good for a soul, and it clearly haunts his, alongside the collateral damage of what that job can cause, in terms of violent repercussions. Anyways it’s a fantastic film with a truly captivating Hackman performance, a terrific supporting cast, sensationally immersive retro-tech sound design, a kick in the nuts twist ending and the kind of narrative that has you thinking for days.