Perceptibly influenced by Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Coppola’s ingenious chamber-piece concerns a surveillance expert (‘the best bugger in the business,’ as he is called) assigned to bug the conversation of a young couple in a San Francisco square. He begins to suspect they may be targets in a murder plot. Previously neutral about the ethics of his profession, he must decide whether to pursue his suspicions; as he does so, this professional eavesdropper and intensely private man finds his own privacy being violated. Although the screenplay was written years before, the apparatus of treacherous tapes and the atmosphere of paranoia have prophetic echoes of Watergate. Coppola described it as a modern horror story, with a particularly original structure where tension is built more through repetition than development. Gene Hackman’s leading performance is one of his richest characterisations and Walter Murch’s sound editing is legendary, catching and matching the technical virtuosity of the central character.

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