It’s the wedding day of Connie Corleone. And as her father and head of a New York Mafia family, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) must oversee the event with his wife Carmela and listen to the requests from anybody who wants a favour. His son Michael (Al Pacino) has come home from the war, and wants nothing to do with his father’s business. From Michael’s perspective, some light is shed on the family business. Vito is old school, and times are changing. A rival of the family wants to start selling drugs in New York and needs the Don’s influence to brings his plan into fruition. The clash of the old world and the new will bring a heavy price, but for the good of the family.
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is what introduced me to the mob genre. Before Goodfellas, before Once Upon A Time In America and even before I saw The Untouchables, I saw The Godfather and it has influenced lots of mob/non-mob movies since. It was the only other day that I saw Don Corleone parodied in Disney’s Zootopia. From the writing (Puzo/Coppola) to the acting to the pacing to the score, it has masterpiece written across its forehead. And that’s not surprising since it’s on copious amounts of top films’ lists everywhere, often said in the same sentence as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and considered one of the best five films of all time. Hear! Hear!
Sure, the movie is influential, but that’s not all it is. It’s a gangster film in the original meaning of gangster, enforcers of organised crime. The Mafia is at the film’s epicentre but it also discusses the psychological aspects of being in this life and the social subtexts of the 1940s and 1950s. Michael is a war veteran, so is it surprising that he doesn’t want to join The Family and partake in more killing? We are also privy to moral values, or lack of, and how morality can be distorted depending on whose side you’re on. A common saying is “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and it’s depicted in every nook and cranny, through intense realism and conviction of different characters.
As fantastic as the direction and the story are, it’d be a moral crime not mention the stellar acting performances. It truly is one of the best casts to ever appear in a Hollywood film. They are well-written, complex characters that don’t make mistakes in their performances. Marlon Brando (On The Waterfront) and Al Pacino (Scarface) stole the film, while Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton give very good performances as lawyer Tom Hagen, Santino ‘Sonny’ Corleone and Kay Adams. They’re all perfect and it’s an emotional ride for me to watch them all. They’re all explored, as we’re not watching one main character and a bunch of flimsy supporting characters.
Michael gets the most screen time but the rest have their fair share as well, enough to have audiences relate to anyhow. The Godfather allows audiences to identify with characters, as I did with Michael, and see how their characteristics fit into the larger narrative. Regardless of the long, three-hour running time, it doesn’t feel bloated. The plots are great and they don’t feel bloated or saturated, much alike to how modern films today try to use multiple storylines, and ultimately fail. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo, and his characters, each cast-member is suited to their role, even characters like Kay Adams, who I find annoying but is still well-acted by Diane Keaton.
The film starts with the wedding of Connie Corleone (Talia Shire). Vito is rich, influential and powerful, and he did not get to where he is without violence. The wedding is the prime setting to show how far his reach is: from the neighbourhood in which they live to being the godfather of Hollywood entertainer Johnny Fontane to Vito’s friends in politics and the mention of judges sending wedding gifts. Well, it’s not as if they could be seen to be at mob wedding in person now is it? Vito has contacts ready to ask him for things and pay him back. And you can’t really trust any of them. Most of them are liars, but he’s been in the game long to know who is and who isn’t.
The film starts in 1946, and to many of the youngsters working in organised crime, Corleone’s ideas are archaic, bordering obsolete. Vito (Brando) thinks the new trend is drugs, but it’s too dangerous and encourages too much heat. And crime families in the business would end up destroying themselves from the inside. His family deals in alcohol and gambling, and paying off cops, lawyers and judges who turn the other cheek as long as they get their cut. And that’s highly respectable isn’t it? When Solozzo (Al Lettieri) enters the game, things change again, forcing Don Corleone into one of hardest games of chess he’s ever had to play, and there will be causalities.
The mob genre has haunted my life for many years, in the best possible way. Anyone who loves film should have seen the first of this trilogy, at the bare minimum. Like Casablanca, All About Eve, The Sound of Music and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, The Godfather makes my shortlist of perfect films, and list of films that film fans everywhere can have a blind spot to. From the direction to the screenplay to the glorious 1940s/1950s’ period sets to the brutal acts of violence and people getting whacked, it’s a Neo-Noir mob drama and a cinematic masterpiece. Written by Mario Puzo (based on his book) and Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather is the real deal.
This film, and the trilogy, does not touch the book. Ernest Hemingway’s iceberg metaphor applies here. Nonetheless, as a standalone picture, this is the film of the 1970s, as is its sequel. Winning three academy awards, this was Marlon Brando’s return to prominence and it’s the stuff legends are made of.
From Brando to Pacino to Caan to Duvall, this has gone down into film legend, and there it shall stay until the end of time