When people talk about Francis Ford Coppola they always mention the Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, and maybe if they’re disparaging him, Jack. But one of his great films almost never gets mentioned, and it’s too bad – The Conversation, released between The Godfather movies, is a masterpiece of paranoia and a real template for the “one for them, one for me” moviemaking ethos of many current directors, like Steven Soderbergh.
Now Coppola’s film is being reimagined as a TV series, with FFC himself executive producing. Christopher ("The Usual Suspects") McQuarrie and Erik ("Band of Brothers") Jendresen are turning the film into a weekly ABC series, and I am intrigued and frightened. The original film had Harry Caul as a master of eavesdropping who soon learns that the tables – or in this case, hidden microphones – may be turned on him.
The show will be set in the modern day, and Harry Caul will be an expert in all sorts of surveillance. The biggest problem I have with the series concept is summed up in this sentence from Variety: “[The Conversation] will feature close-ended stories, with Caul reluctantly taking on cases in order to help people deserving of assistance.” So it’s like Francis Ford Coppola’s The A-Team of Eavesdropping? I hate that format so much, the one where every week the writers have to come up with a new reason to get our recalcitrant hero to do something heroic. Also, as opposed to the very alone and secretive Caul of the film, the TV Caul will assemble a team of experts to work with him. The saving grace: “But there’ll also be an ongoing storyline since, as in the movie, Caul will be a man under constant observation by various government agencies due to a secret conversation he’s recorded.” Maybe as the show goes on, assuming it does so, the ongoing story will be pushed to forefront, leaving the Spying of the Week stories in the dust. Still, much of this sounds like it’s The Conversation in name only.
While the original The Conversation reflected Watergate paranoia, this version will be all post-9/11, post-Patriot Act, post-the President wants to snoop all your calls paranoia. "It’s relevant to our times," Krantz said. Producer Tony (“24”) Henderson says the show will be all about "paranoia and fear" as well as "the individual’s relationship with the establishment."
I would love to think that a show on ABC will really be calling into question our culture of surveillance, but I have a bad feeling this is going to be just another espionage action show, like Alias and 24, signifying nothing. If I want to see political issues engaged in an entertaining way, I’ll still be turning to Battlestar Galactica.