The Conversation

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Conversation Movie Poster Image
Classic Coppola thriller has suspense, violence.
  • PG
  • 1974
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Despite claims to the contrary, we are responsible for our actions.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harry is a hard-working, professional surveillance expert. The spillover from work to life is inevitable -- he is as discreet about the identities of his clients as he is about the details of his own life. Corporate executives pay to eavesdrop on those close to them. People carry out a deadly attack. Harry chooses not to intervene.


Quick cuts of a bloody murder. A bloody palm print is planted on a glass wall in a struggle. A bloody dead body. A toilet filled with blood overflows. Harry is followed. His apartment is bugged. Two corporate security guards wrestle Harry down a staircase. Harry is warned not to get involved in things that don't concern him.


A prostitute comes on strongly to Harry, eventually getting him into bed after taking her clothes off in the dark. Her breasts are vaguely seen from far. It's jokingly suggested that a man's wife is cheating on him.


"Faggot," "Chrissakes," "bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Conversation is Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 look into the mind of a genius surveillance expert. It's a suspenseful moral tale about living with the consequences of one's actions. A man comes to realize that his work may have played a role in a violent act and he unravels psychologically as a result. We see quick flashbacks to a bloody assault, and blood coming through an overflowing toilet. A prostitute is viewed undressing from far in dim light and her breasts can vaguely be seen. People kiss and lie in bed together. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.  Language includes "faggot," "Chrissakes," and "bitch."


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byDerekthecleric May 20, 2017

A fantastic and thoughtful psychological thriller

The story of a wiretapper plagued with guilt and the mystery of a confusing taped conversation, director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Gene Hackman perform at... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLukeCon April 22, 2020

Coppola’s suspenseful psychological thriller has iffy content

While it may not be Coppola's best, The Conversation certainly is a good work of his. It starts off slow-paced. We start learning more about the inside lif... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE CONVERSATION, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is the best surveillance man in the business. His years in the industry have taught him to keep not only his professional methods secret but also the ordinary facts of his life. Solitary and tight-lipped, he only uses pay phones. He keeps a landline in a drawer but doesn't give out the number. His girlfriend doesn't know where he lives. He thinks nothing of being hired by a corporate director to record the conversation of a young couple walking in circles in San Francisco's Union Square during a noisy, crowded lunch hour. The logistics are challenging and, using long-distance microphones and plants in the crowd, he manages to piece the conversation together. When he delivers the tapes for payment, he senses that the recordings were commissioned for a sinister motive. Soon he's being followed, which only goads him into further involvement with what should have been a routine assignment.

Is it any good?

Coppola's The Godfather won three Oscars in 1973, and the same pragmatic, incisive, and emotional gifts displayed there are seen at work in this film. It's a tableau of restrained artistry in which Hackman delivers an intelligent and nuanced performance. He is an expert operating under the strictest self-control, yet he gradually comes to see that he controls nothing. Coppola, who also wrote the script, builds an increasingly menacing world in which the tools of Harry's trade turn against him. Using Harry's Catholicism as an ethical yardstick, the movie breaks down the man's self-serving position that what others do with the neutral work he performs for them is their business. Yet, having caused harm without meaning to once before, he is stricken with conscience when it threatens to happen again.  It's as if Coppola has constructed a compelling moral universe that permits first mistakes but punishes repeat offenses. When Harry's work seems to cause harm again, he descends into his worst nightmare -- he himself becomes a subject under scrutiny. The question we are left with in The Conversation is whether Harry will survive or crumble under the resulting despair. Robert Duvall, who appeared in The Godfather and Coppola's Apocalypse Now, appears in an uncredited cameo. The movie won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or and received a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Conversation and how it shows what responsibility each of us bears when we, however inadvertently, support wrongdoing by others.

  • Harry hears an assault happening next door but does nothing to stop it. Would you have called the police? Why do you think he did nothing?

  • What do you think this '70s movie predicts about our relationship with and dependence on technological innovations? Do you think the movie argues that even back then technology was already affecting our social interactions?

  • Harry won't even answer the land line he keeps in a drawer at home. How do you think having cell phones and social media at our fingertips at all times has affected us?

Movie details

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