For some reason, don’t ask me why, I am having nostalgia for the days when an American President could be run out of office with a sufficiently bad scandal. Here’s a review of two movies which captured the era of Watergate.
Central to The Conversation is the character of Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a lonely little man with an empty little life, whose nondescript appearance and meticulously-guarded privacy disguise his true job as the head of a small private surveillance company. Widely respected in his field – as shown by the reverence he is accorded when he happens to attend a surveillance worker’s convention – Caul works for a wide variety of clients, including several government agencies (though he doesn’t always know which one).
When his company is hired to do some more government work – keeping tabs on a nervous young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest) – they figure it’s most likely IRS work. But when Harry pops by to drop off the surveillance tapes, the director (Robert Duvall) of the agency he’s been working for is mysteriously absent, and his assistant Martin Stett (a startlingly young and wonderfully sinister Harrison Ford) insists that he should take charge of the tapes – which flies in the face of the instructions Caul was given. His suspicions aroused, Harry reviews the tapes and realises that the pair he’d been trailing might have been more scared than he’d at first thought. A clash between his personal ethics as a devout Catholic and his professional obligations to his client ensues; eventually, Harry ends up convinced that something tragic and horrible is about to happen, something he might be powerless to stop.