“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
When I first saw The Godfather many years ago, I initially called the film “a long, boring piece of crap.” Needless to say, but there was something immensely wrong with my teenage brain. Luckily as I have matured, so have my tastes in cinema. This film is heralded as an American classic, and now I can wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. As famed critic Roger Ebert pointed out, this movie is the one where most people can agree on its quality. Hardly a single person dislikes this movie and that is a very good thing.
Ultimately, The Godfather is still a very long movie but I have come to appreciate it more with each viewing. The film is obviously about the mafia, but this is a different kind of mafia film. Prior mafia films and even those after this one deals with perspectives from an outsider and their perceptions of violence and death with the mafia. However, this film is told within the confinements of a mafia family. The story is told within the inside and that was a unique story angle at that time. I like how the film doesn’t show corruption from the mafia family, the Corleones. There are no civilian casualties from organized crime and the only corrupt person in the film is in the form of a police officer. Don Corleone doesn’t believe in dealing with drugs, because of how they affect people. The themes of the Corleone family and the movie itself is family and loyalty. As Michael Corleone points out in the movie, “never take sides against the family.” That is when crazy things begin to happen.
The beginning of the movie is very crucial. It is basically a large wedding scene with scenes intercut of Don Corleone in his darkened office taking care of family business. This beginning is important for several reasons. We get the tone of the film and we understand who the Corleone family is. This is also where all the characters are introduced and explained. By the time the scene is over, we get the big picture of the film and we get a sense where the film is heading. The scene is a bit long, but I felt director Francis Ford Coppola did an excellent job on introducing all of his main characters in the film.
What exactly is The Godfather about? Well, it is a film about family and it takes advantage of the classic structure of handing power between generations. The patriarch of the family is Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) who is the head of one of the most powerful mafia families. His children, who play a huge factor in the family, are Sonny (James Caan), Michael (Al Pacino), Connie (Talia Shire), and Fredo (John Cazale). Also playing a huge role is the family lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). The aging Vito decides to transfer power to one of his subalterns, and that causes a ripple between the five Mafia families in New York. The main child here is Michael, who didn’t want anything to do with his family and instead join the military. But after Vito is shot, Mike decides to join the family business and take control.
The acting is absolutely fantastic. Marlon Brando delivered one of the best performances of his career as the aging head of the family. He is known for using his devices in the beginning such as his puffy cheeks and the cat on his lap. The way he delivered his dialogue in such a soft-spoken voice is also very memorable. Al Pacino does a very good job, taking wise advice from his father while delivering on his own counsel. This is the beginning for Pacino’s illustrious career. Robert Duvall does a fantastic job as Hagen. Duvall has had a legendary career, but the one role I think of every time I reflect on his career is his role as Tom Hagen. James Caan does a great job as the quick-tempered Sonny, who unfortunately meets his demise in the film but in a scene that is one of the best scenes in the movie.
The one thing that does irk me about the film is the use of women. It seems like women has no part of the family. Mike’s sister, Connie (played solidly by Talia Shire) is only used for a target of her husband’s Carlo anger. He treats her like a piece of filth. Although, Mike does have a special place in his heart for Connie. Mike also has a romantic interest in the film named Kay Adams (played by the eccentric Diane Keaton). I didn’t think Kay was a strong character in the film. Also, Vito has a wife but she is just an insignificant shadow only meant for the family pictures. Finally, there is a Sicilian woman we meet. After Michael goes on exile in Sicily for shooting a cop who played a role in the shooting of his father, he falls in love with this girl…..but she ends up getting blown up. My only qualm abut the film is how little importance women play in it.
Although the film is a long film about the mafia business, it is also a very violent film. Two of the most memorable scenes not only in this film, but in the history of cinema is known for its violence. The first scene is that infamous scene where a film mogul discovers a severed horse head in his bed after he refuses to cast a friend of the family, Johnny Fontaine in a role for one of his films. The other scene is that baptism massacre scene towards the end. Michael is in the church watching the baptism of his son, but he issued orders for enemies of the family to be murdered while at the baptism….and this way he can be proven innocent. These scenes are violent, but they are incredibly well-done.
Let’s now talk about how the movie looks. The movie makes good use of a darkened palette and lots of shadows thanks to the expert work done by cinematographer Gordon Willis. He expertly crafts Vito’s office with darkness and shadows against the sunny feeling of the wedding. In fact, most of the film is shadowed in darkness and it works very well for the type of film it is.
Also playing a huge role in the film is the music. Coppola traveled to Italy to find a composer who can bring an Italian feeling to the film. His find, Nino Rota did just that. The main title is heavily influenced by Italian culture and it gave an authentic feeling to the film-as the main characters are an Italian family. It’s a shame that the Academy snubbed his music, because I felt it should have won an Oscar. It’s one of my favorite all-time scores.
Nominated for 11 Oscars and winning 3 of them including Best Picture, The Godfather is one of America’s most influential films. It is certainly the godfather of mafia films, no pun intended. The movie remains popular to this day and if you haven’t seen the film, you should see it. It’s almost three hours long, but this is a portrait of a mafia family that is all about family. Francis Ford Coppola did an amazing job directing this film from the very popular novel written by Mario Puzo. The movie is not perfect, but it’s almost perfect though. The Godfather is an instant American classic.
My Grade: A-