(Directed by Francis Ford Coppola) (1974)
This film should work: it has all the right ingredients, including great direction and tantalising editing to keep us unbalanced but engaged; plenty of tension and suspense; great playing from Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a lonely, guilt-ridden and obsessed private surveillance expert, and sterling supporting roles.
For instance: John Cazale as Harry’s querulous help; Allen Garfield the loudmouth rival; Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams as the couple under scrutiny; an unbilled Robert Duvall as the tormented, daunting corporate client and Harrison Ford as his bumptious yet strangely sinister assistant.
But: the film doesn’t work, quite, somehow. There is something vaguely confected about it, both in the exposition about Harry’s background, conveniently recited by competitor Bernie Moran after a surveillance roadshow, and in the denouement, that frankly fails to convince. Despite or perhaps because of the shadow of Watergate, the viewer’s sympathy dissolves, forced to conclude that all silly buggers get what’s coming to them.