'Cause a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man
The Godfather is directed and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola and is based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo. The film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, and Diane Keaton.
A review of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather is easily one of the most useless things to be conceived in late 2018. Nothing can challenge the film's status as one of the greatest films in all of cinema, constantly in a tug-of-war match with Citizen Kane and Casablanca for the unofficial title of "Greatest Film Ever Made". Just going with the consensus and lauding the film for all of its film-making achievements and its influence within the crime/gangster genre would make this into a rather hollow review, and yet, that's exactly what I'm going to do anyway because, well, The Godfather is an excellent film from top to bottom, where any and all flaws are rendered useless by what the film does so well.
It's next to near impossible to pinpoint one exact thing that can be said to answer the question, "Why is The Godfather held in such high regard?" The truth is, there isn't one exact thing. As I've mentioned in past Best Picture winner reviews like Gone with the Wind, The Godfather is an example of a great film, the emphasis being on the word 'film' and not 'great'. That's always bothered me a little bit when I hear people say, "that's a great movie!" when talking about an MCU superhero flick or some other fun, entertaining film. Such a statement doesn't necessarily account for everything that is involved with making a film: the directing, acting, writing, editing, music, and so much more. Was said film great because the action was enthralling and it entertained you a lot, or maybe it was because the movie made you laugh a bunch of times? I don't mean to knock anybody's specific preferences in watching films; the statement, "that's a great movie!" just has much more structure and thickness to it when an argument can be made for all of the film's specific film-making components, not just one or two parts. For something like The Godfather, where every film-making component is executed with the utmost of expertise, the statement, "that's a great movie!" is almost an insult. This is film-making that will forever be in the history books, be a major topic of conversation in advanced film studies classrooms, and be influential to the crime and gangster genres for all of time.
Spanning from 1945 to 1955, The Godfather is the story of the Corleone crime family, headed by the Don Vito Corleone (Brando). The film opens with Vito hearing requests on the day of his daughter Connie's (Talia Shire) wedding. Vito's youngest son Michael (Pacino), attends the wedding with his girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), though Michael is reluctant to be any part of his family's business affairs. A series of violent events over the years, however, draws Michael into his family's business, and with Vito nearing the end of his career, Michael begins his journey as a ruthless crime lord.
I know, I know. I left out a lot of the specific plot details, which is something I usually don't do. The thing is, The Godfather's story moves like ocean waves; there is a lot of different events happening at once, but the various plot lines are all going in the same direction, working together to move things forward at a steady pace. For a film that's a shade under three hours, the plot is one of the more energetic ones you'll find for any lengthy film. At its core, The Godfather's plot is about Michael's transformation from family outsider to its new head of operations, with a series of interwoven events serving to propel Michael further along that path. The end of one violent act is the beginning of another, but there's a common denominator to it all: Michael is going down a path that he can never return from.
- It's a bit shocking to me that some people consider Vito Corleone the main character, because there's much more evidence available to suggest that The Godfather is the story of Michael Corleone and not Vito. Pacino gets much more screen time than Brando does, and I don't think there's any question that Michael is by far the more interesting character, being elevated by a stellar Al Pacino performance that is easily one of, if not his best performance ever in a film. At the start, Michael is the innocent and "pure-hearted" member of his family, wishing to go on and live a normal American life that is completely free from his family's business. That all changes when an assassination attempt on Vito practically forces Michael to not just stick his toe in the Mafia waters, but dive in head first altogether. The turning point for Michael is when he goes to an Italian restaurant to have dinner and discuss a truce with the drug lord Virgil Sollozzo and the corrupt police officer Captain Mark McCluskey.
Michael's face, moments right before he kills Sollozzo and McCluskey
Pacino's acting, particularly in this scene, is considerably some of the best ever put to film. He speaks no words as his eyes nervously bounce around the restaurant and his mouth slightly twitches, with the sound of a train rolling along in the background. This is the moment Michael knows that his life will change forever, the moment where he will become a permanent member of the world of crime and embrace the destiny that he so actively spent years avoiding.
- An interesting place where The Godfather deserves special praise is its use of violence, not just in how grisly that several character deaths are, but in how the movie uses violence as a mechanism for its majestic narrative. Every major act of violence that occurs in the film does not happen because the movie is trying to bash it into our heads that these are ruthless crime lords who go about their business with a nihilistic philosophy. Whether its waking up to find a horse head in your bed, to Michael killing Sollozzo and McCluskey in the restaurant, or to getting riddled with bullets at a toll booth, The Godfather perfectly places all of its major acts of violence in a way where every single one of them is essential to the progression of one of the plot lines. A character death always means significant consequences for one or more other characters, even if it is the death of a character that we've gotten to know for only a short while. Any time we see someone who looks as if they're about to pull a gun or a knife, it is a moment of extreme tension, drama, and excitement. There is absolutely nothing about the violence in The Godfather that is senseless or dull, and not even the most blood-filled action of an R-rated movie of the 21st century can come close to matching it.
- Yes, I do have a low point for The Godfather, but that's not going to make me downgrade the movie at all, because everything else is so wonderfully executed. Marlon Brando is a bit disappointing as Vito Corleone, which makes me wonder what exactly did the Academy see when they decided to hand Brando the Best Actor Award. Brando mumbles quite a bit throughout the film, and he lacks the poise that a man like Vito Corleone should be showing at all times. A role like this one should be something like Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck at their very best: commanding respect and admiration everywhere he goes, and not needing to say a word to obtain either. Even if he does get nearly shot to death early in the film, the Don of the Corleone Mafia family should not sound like he's impersonating the croaky voice of an elderly man lying on his deathbed. I can only imagine how much better that Vito Corleone would have been had Coppola worked some more with Brando to try and make the character seem more like a dignified antihero and not simply a fatherly boss head.
So then, how to conclude? Should I just go with the usual routine and praise The Godfather as one of world cinema's greatest features along with the likes of Casablanca and Citizen Kane? I could do that. Should I then go on giving endless love for the film's marvelous directing, other-worldly acting, and gruesome acts of violence that deserve immense praise, not criticism, because of how meaningful they are to the film's story? I could also do that. Instead, I'm going to end this review by praising The Godfather in a slightly different way: upon conclusion of watching the film, it's almost impossible to gather the words of what you just witnessed. It is a film that feels as if a divine presence came down and guided the actions of every person involved in the film's production, sort of ironic given the film belongs to the gangster genre. You cannot watch The Godfather in small chunks and think you can still get the same effect if you watch it scene by scene as opposed to setting three hours aside and watching it from start to finish. It is a film that you experience, a film that truly makes the most of the "move" part of what is meant by the word movie. The Godfather reaches a level of cinematic transcendence that only a small quantity of films to ever be conceived have ever been able to reach, and if you think any decent filmmaker of the 21st century can just rub his or her hands together and try to match the film's greatness, you are lying to yourself. The Godfather is the kind of cinematic work that not only transformed all of American cinema, it is living, breathing proof of how film-making is indeed, and always will be, an art form.
Recommend? Everyone should see this film at least once during their lifetime.
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