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typical day for most people on the job...


Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Terri Garr

Harry:  Why are you following me??
Martin:  I’m not following you, I’m looking for you.  There’s a big difference.

Harry (Hackman) is a lonely, somewhat paranoid free-lance surveillance expert working in San Francisco.  When he starts to suspect that the recordings he made of two people might result in their murder, he becomes hesitant to turn the tapes over to the company that hired him.  As he delves deeper into what this cryptic conversation he’s recorded might mean, he also worries about what lengths the company might go to in order to gain possession of those tapes.

This is one of those under-the-radar sort of classics that I’ve heard a little bit about here and there and only finally got around to watching yesterday.  While it didn’t bowl me over with how amazing it is, it’s certainly a very solid film, anchored by a very nice, subtle performance from Gene Hackman.

I’m used to seeing Hackman in roles where he plays more boisterous, and often villainous, characters.  It’s nice to see him playing a quieter sort of every man.  He does it quite convincingly.  Also convincing was a young Harrison Ford as Martin, the shady assistant to the man that hired Harry in the first place.  He’s creepy, but you’re just never quite sure how wary of him Harry should be.

It was also nice to be surprised by a movie.  I’ll admit, I did not see the ending to this one coming.  They get you so wrapped up in Harry’s paranoia that you forget to try to figure out what might be going on.  And that’s the sure sign of a quality movie – the twist ending isn’t the whole focus of the movie.  The focus of the movie is the question of what moral responsibility a person in Harry’s profession has.  As he says, he just gets the information.  What his employers do with it isn’t his problem.  But, one can only shut off one’s humanity for so long.  When sympathy for the client starts to creep in, concern is soon to follow.

This is the sort of movie that I could imagine (with a cringe) getting remade nowadays, directed by Tony Scott, hyper-edited, starring Denzel Washington, and ending with a car-chase-shoot-out sequence.  Thankfully Francis Ford Coppola didn’t see a need to direct it that way.  Instead, the tension builds subtly around you until you end up just as frustrated and thrown by the final events as Harry is.

Those who surveil are likely to end up being surveilled.

10 – 1.5 for a part near the midsection where it gets a bit bogged down and drags – .5 for being a little too stylishly trippy here and there = 8.0