This is one of those movies that a lot of people have never seen, but I highly recommend it. Some people will tell you it's boring, but I disagree.
Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul ("Caul" is a very fitting name for his character), an electronic surveillance expert who will eavesdrop on anyone. Harry has learned to distance himself from his work . . . or has he? In his line of work, he cannot become emotionally or morally involved with the people he spies on. He must simply make recordings, deliver them to whoever hired him, and get paid, no questions asked.
However, when he eavesdrops on Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest, he hears something that greatly disturbs him. This causes him to struggle with a moral dilemma . . . does he distance himself from what is happening and simply deliver the tapes or does he get involved and possibly prevent something horrible from happening?
Hackman is great in the lead role. He's a smart surveillance man, yet he suffers from overwhelming paranoia about everyone and everything around him. He trusts no one and is always suspicious that someone is watching him
This movie also has a top-notch supporting cast, including the perviously-mentioned Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest, as well as a young (and quietly menacing) Harrison Ford. John Cazale plays Hackman's assistant and Allen Garfield and Teri Garr are also along for the ride.
This movie is a million miles away from the techo-thrillers of today. While today's movies are big-budgeted, noisy, rapid-paced films with lots of swirling camera movement, THE CONVERSATION is a quiet, thoughtful character study that has a couple of scenes that will chill you to the bone (especially the scene where Hackman hears the bit of recorded dialogue that eventually gives him nightmares).
A small, but brilliant movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Highly recommended.