Best Movies by Farr: Under Surveillance

March 22, 2010 | John Farr

Three films about voyeurism and suspicion.

The Conversation (1974)


Detached and distrustful of others, surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a deeply private, virtually friendless man whose life is consumed by his special brand of freelance intelligence work. Hired by corporate director Martin Stett (Harrison Ford) to monitor the conversation of a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), Caul is troubled by the fragments of talk he illicitly captures on tape and begins obsessively piecing them together, suspecting a murder is in the works.


Made before he began work on “The Godfather II,” Coppola’s prescient, haunting drama is a brilliant character study set in a pungent atmosphere of paranoia and conspiracy. Hackman is the dark heart of the film, playing a profoundly solitary man tortured by guilt, complicity, and his own inability to trust anyone, including girlfriend Amy, sweetly played by Garr. Coppola’s most artful film, “The Conversation” is dark, brooding, and mysterious, but absorbing nonetheless.

Caché (2005)


Television interviewer Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche), live a comfortably placid bourgeois life in a Paris condominium, along with their 12-year-old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). But when someone begins to terrorize them by leaving voyeuristic videotapes on their doorstep, along with gruesome stick-figure drawings that appear meaningless yet menacing, their lives are irrevocably disrupted. Who’s watching, and what do they want?


Austrian director and arch provocateur Michael Haneke crafts a compelling, suspenseful thriller in Caché, deftly suggesting the menace of global terrorism by locating it in the troubled domestic experience of an iconic nuclear family. Auteuil and Binoche are both superb as the couple ripped apart by a long-dormant secret that slowly bubbles to the surface when Georges confronts a horrific incident in his early childhood. Haneke really notches up the tension, relieving it (momentarily) in a kitchen scene that will literally steal your breath away. Intelligent, enigmatic, and shocking, Caché is can’t-miss cinema.

The Lives of Others (2006)


After seeing a stage drama by celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Stasi agent Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Uhlrich Muhe) decides to place the writer under surveillance at the suggestion of a government minister (Thomas Thieme) who privately lusts after Dreymans lover, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler quickly learns that Dreyman is ultra-patriotic, but as the GDR begins to crack down on his artist friends, his loyalties begin to shiftand so do Wieslers.


Winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2006, this brisk yet elegantly plotted political thriller concerns a highly disciplined agent of the East German secret police who becomes emotionally involved in the life of one of his suspected dissident targets-though they never meet. In a stoic, tight-lipped performance, Ulrich Muhe is terrific as the cold, unhappy policeman who experiences a personal catharsis after monitoring Dreyman. Koch and Gedeck are wonderful, too, as the lovers doomed to suffer at the hands of abusive officials. Suspenseful and moving, “Others” is an aching tribute to the spirit of love and guarantee of individual rights we too often take for granted.

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