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We owe Siskel & Ebert. Years ago the two Chicago film critics did a segment on the movies they considered to be the very best of the 1970s. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was among their selections. Once we saw it we immediately understood why: The Conversation (1974) really is a modern masterpiece, and Gene Hackman’s crowning achievement as an actor. Hackman stars as Harry Caul, an emotionally guarded surveillance expert hired to record the conversations between a man and woman having an affair. Caul eventually realizes the adulterous couple are being set up to be killed by the woman’s jealous husband (the man paying Caul to do the surveillance), and he’s confronted with the ethical/professional crisis of a lifetime. Coppola’s direction is brilliantly claustrophobic and tense, while Hackman’s great supporting actors are all in top form: John Cazale, Terri Garr, Robert Duvall, Cindy Williams and a very young Harrison Ford. You won’t shake this film’s powerful spell. The Conversation screens at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday (January 7 through 9) as part of the Webster Film Series at Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 East Lockwood Avenue; 314-968-7487 or Tickets are $5 to $6.
Jan. 7-9, 2011

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