Friday, September 7, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Private Eyes Are Watching You

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody gets spy thrills from Gene Hackman and spy action from Tom Cruise.


Between making The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed this film, an arty little thriller which is more appealing to me personally than either of his Oscar-winning epics.

Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, a private contractor in the surveillance field, known among other surveillance experts as the best in the business. When he goes to a surveillance convention, equipment company reps try to talk him into doing promos for them.

The film begins with Caul performing his latest job, recording the conversation a young couple has as they stroll around Union Square in San Francisco.

Caul says that what he records and why doesn't matter. He doesn't get involved, it's none of his business, all he does is turn the tapes over to the person who hired him. But the fallout from his tapes has changed his life before - he used to live in New York, where he pulled off a seemingly impossible surveillance job, and when he turned in the tapes, three people wound up getting murdered. That's when Caul moved to San Francisco, into a sparsely furnished apartment with multiple locks on the door, and presumably when he became extremely private, awkward and eccentric. He doesn't tell anyone anything about his personal life. Early in the film, he loses a girlfriend because he won't tell her anything about where he lives, his living situation, he doesn't even tell her his real age. Caul doesn't let on, but the murders weigh heavily on his Catholic conscience.

Caul was hired to record the couple's conversation by a mysterious man known as The Director. When he goes to deliver the tapes to The Director at his office building, he's met by a middle man. He was supposed to give the tapes to The Director personally, but he's told that The Director is out of the country. The middle man gives him his $15,000 for the job, but Caul doesn't go for it. He leaves the money and takes the tapes, despite the middle man's warning that the tapes are dangerous, "Someone may get hurt." As Caul exits the building, he sees both members of the couple separately.

Listening to the tapes again, Caul catches a line: "He'd kill us if he had the chance."

"Someone may get hurt." "He'd kill us if he had the chance." Caul begins to worry that his job might get more people killed, that The Director is going to have the couple murdered, and that it's going to happen when the couple arranges to meet again - Sunday, the Jack Tar Hotel, 3pm, Room 773.

Caul listens to the tapes repeatedly as the day approaches, worrying over what might happen, obsessing over the details, connecting to the woman through her words, dreaming about her, his paranoia increasing as he finds that the middle man is following him around. Then the tapes are stolen from him.

Caul is involved now.

The Conversation is a fantastic film with a wonderful, haunting tone and pace. Aiding the haunting feel of the film is an amazing piano score by David Shire. Hackman delivers one of his best performances as Harry Caul, and he's given a great supporting cast to work with, including John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, and Cindy Williams.

The movie was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound at the 1975 Academy Awards, and while it didn't win in any of its categories, Francis Ford Coppola's other 1974 release, The Godfather Part II, did win in several, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In a timely coincidence, the tape recording of conversations brought down a presidency just months after The Conversation came out in theatres. It had its Los Angeles premiere on April 7, 1974. Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.


Almost ten years after Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz reunited to star in this action/comedy from Cop Land and Walk the Line director James Mangold, who had unsuccessfully tried to get Cruise into the cast of his 3:10 to Yuma remake a few years earlier.

Diaz plays June Havens, who bumps into Cruise's charming Roy Miller in a Kansas airport before they both board a flight to June's hometown of Boston. The two have a nice chat on the nearly-empty plane and June excuses herself to the restroom so she can give herself a pep talk in the mirror, getting hyped up to make a move on the man. But when she exits the restroom, she finds that Miller has killed everyone else on board, including the pilots, and they'll soon have to make a crash landing.

Turns out that Miller is actually a highly trained, impossibly capable secret agent who has gone rogue, and everyone else on the plane except June were also secret agents, sent to kill him. Miller is accused of committing a mass murder in a government lab before blowing it up and stealing the film's MacGuffin, a perpetual energy battery called the Zephyr. Of course, this being a summer action flick we know that Miller is really the hero of the story and is actually trying to keep the battery safe and away from the true villains of the piece; John Fitzgerald, the traitorous government agent who is leading the chase after him, and Antonio Quintana, an arms dealer who Fitzgerald intends to sell the battery to.

The pursuit of Miller, June, the Zephyr and its Hall & Oates-loving inventor takes the characters on a globetrotting adventure packed with fun action sequences, including the plane crash in Kansas, vehicular mayhem on I-93 in Boston, a gunfight in Brooklyn, explosions on a private island, intrigue on a train through the Alps, and a climactic motorcycle chase right in the middle of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. My only regret here is that the James Bond series didn't beat this film to the idea of having an "action among the bulls" sequence.

The interaction between Cruise and Diaz is very enjoyable, with some laugh-out-loud moments as June deals with the insanity going on around her and Miller remains very calm and extremely pleasant no matter what over-the-top dangerous situation they're in... Even if he does get his words jumbled sometimes, like when he pretends to take June hostage and warns a crowd, "No one follows us, or I kill myself and then her!"

Knight and Day never takes itself too seriously, and I find it to be quite entertaining.

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