Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is hired by a mysterious client's brusque aide (Harrison Ford) to tail a young couple, Mark (Frederic Forrest) and Ann (Cindy Williams). Tracking the pair through San Francisco's Union Square, Caul and his associate Stan (John Cazale) manage to record a cryptic conversation between them. Tormented by memories of a previous case that ended badly, Caul becomes obsessed with the resulting tape, trying to determine if the couple are in danger.
This movie's general subject — that mysterious thing that might be called fate, serendipity, happenstance or luck — has inspired a number of recent movies, but Karen and Jill Sprecher wield their pop mysticism with breathtaking intelligence and control. Four stories, all involving adrift, unlucky Manhattanites, spiral around each other in a chronological scheme that is as lucid and complex as a piece of music. Alan Arkin, in one of his best recent performances, plays an insurance executive with a fatalistic view of the universe and a guilty conscience, and the actor's dry, precise sense of comedy gives the movie the absurdist kick of a Beckett play. — A. O. Scott
2002-05-24 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Thirteen Conversations About One Thing