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The Film List Project #21: The Conversation

Let's have a conversation about The Conversation.

What I thought was going to be a high intensity action movie turned out to be one of the most interesting character pieces I have ever seen.

Gene Hackman looks positively ordinary as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert assigned to spy on a seemingly ordinary couple couple. The bad hair, creepy mustache, dated wardrobe, and so many other things about Caul's first appearance in the film make it seem like he's the boring one of this bunch of sleuths.

Then, you see this guy's paranoia, and it all starts to make sense. He's the focus of this story, not the people he's working with or the couple whose conversation he listens to.

Caul is one of the best in the business, but not without sacrificing some of his sanity. Whether his paranoid nature is caused by his career choice or his career choice was driven by his paranoid nature is something we will never know, but there's no doubt they go hand in hand.

His struggles to reveal personal details, engage in conversation, and be intimate with others all make him an incredibly awkward member of society. However, his dedication to his job initially makes him seem like something beyond an ordinary paranoid guy.

You watch this guy listen to the same conversation over and over again, delving deeper into the past and alienating the people around him. Even I started to get annoyed with him. I mean, there's only so much you can learn from the same conversation, right? Well, yeah, but Caul seems to have forgotten that.

He creates this story in his head about the people he's spying on that makes it difficult for you to decide what's really going on and what's Caul's delusion. It starts with these glances between Caul and the couple that anyone who's looked up someone on social media who they don't know very well and then seen them out in public knows very well. It ends with full on visions and Caul tearing up his apartment.

I would definitely watch this again just to examine Caul as a character. The way he grows and develops is understandable, realistic, and fascinating. I'm sure I missed things the first time around that I'll catch the next time, and, to me, that's what makes a truly great film.

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