Originally released in 1972, this Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather: Part II) film has more than stood the test of time. It is still considered by most as the preeminent mob/gangster/mafia film ever made and one of the best films of all time. Forty-five years later it is still highly watchable. For film fans this is a must watch. No matter if you are normally a fan of the genre or not. It is that good.
Based on the Mario Puzo novel, The Godfather tells the tale of a crime family in which the head decides it is time to turn over control to his selected successor. Easier said than done as they say and an internal war begins. To elevate a simple story like this above average you have to have everyone involved in the film clicking on a high level. First is the script. Wisely, Francis Ford Coppola decided to work with Puzo himself. The two have translated a highly readable novel into a watchable, engaging and at times poignant film. You get to know and understand the characters which allows you to be involved in the story.
Next up is having a director with a strong idea about how to present the story. This is Francis Ford Coppola best film. He understands that to elevate this over a simple mafia film he would have to make the story more involved. That is accomplished by focusing on the family element. That theme runs through everything. Playing on the love of family and as such it is hard to judge the characters’ actions. Ford Coppola’s vision is accentuated by his right and left hands. The cinematography (Gordon Willis – Presumed Innocent, Annie Hall) is sumptuous. Editing is precise.
Finally, the acting is great. Ford Coppola has assembled quite a cast here with Brando, Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, and Abe Vigoda making up just a small (but uber talented) portion of the large cast. Pacino shines in the film as one of the sons. He is onscreen the most and you never tire of him. You cannot picture anyone else other than Brando as the head of the family. His Vito is powerful but respected.
And I haven’t even gone into how good the score is…
Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) and his youngest son, Michael (played by Al Pacino), are the brains behind the Corleone crime empire. Vito has made the Corleone name one to respect and fear in the mob world of New York. His son Michael has always tried to establish his independence and does so by defying his father and enlisting in the army during World War II. He has also not shown any interest in the family business up until now. Michael comes home a war hero and at the wedding of his sister, Connie (played by Talia Shire), he arrives with his non-Italian girlfriend, Kay (played by Diane Keaton).
Everything changes for the Corleone family and especially Michael when Vito is shot and barely survives the assassination attempt. After saving his father from a second assassination attempt, Michael convinces his brother Sonny (played by James Caan) and family advisors (played by Abe Vigoda and Robert Duvall) that he should take over control of the family. Michael wants revenge on those who tried to kill his father. After killing a police captain and the drug trafficker Michael is forced to hide out in Sicily.
Upon his return Michael is once again in training to become the don of the Corleone family. After his brother is murdered and he marries Kay, the Corleone family goes through a period of prosperity. He then decides to once again seek revenge on the family’s enemies.
One of those rare films that really does not have any weaknesses. Nothing is poorly done here. Nothing you can say looking back that should have been done differently. Even after multiple viewings.
The Godfather: Part 2:
One of those rare instances where the second film is as good as the original. Such is indicated by the fact that this too won the Oscar for Best Picture. Filled with memorable scenes and characters.
The second time around Francis Ford Coppolla is even more ambitious than he was the first time around. And it paid off. For many fans, even those that loved the first, this was the stronger of the two.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) now has control of the family business. Of course, this comes with its own set of issues. He tries to solve this and show his power by killing many…especially his perceived enemies. The killing even comes to include a member of his own family.
We also get some back story on Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro). His childhood and young adulthood when he comes to America. Then how he becomes a mob boss.
The Godfather: Part 3:
The final part of the Corleone film trilogy. Once again Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather) is at the helm and most would agree that by far this is the weakest film of the three. The film series was heading towards the finish line in obvious distress, limping and dragging along.
Family leader Michael Corleone (Al Pacino – Scarface, Ocean’s Thirteen) is now in his 60s and is trying to get out of the business. But as he utters himself during the film, “I was out and then they dragged me back in”.
The Mafioso leader is reflecting back upon his life and the low moments like the death of his wife to be, his estrangement from his two children Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio – only film) and Mary (Sophia Coppola – Peggy Sue Got Married, The Cotton Club), separation from his wife Kay (Diane Keaton – Annie Hall, Something’s Gotta Give), and the death of Fredo. He comes to the realization that he must make some changes. Michael, a very rich and powerful man, has decided that the path to his redemption is to become legitimate by linking himself and his family up with the Vatican, a war, partially caused by rival don Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna – from television’s Criminal Minds) and partially by his hot headed nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia – The Untouchables, Ocean’s Twelve), breaks out between his family and a rival family grasping for more power.
All this stress sends Michael’s health spiraling downwards and he goes into a diabetic coma. Once out of it the fact that he must find a successor becomes even clearer to him. He is in a race to make up for all his shortcomings and evil things he has done in his life.
I was shocked when I read that in 1990 this film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Really did not think it was up to that quality. Though I am not one of those who set all the blame for the film’s shortcomings squarely on Sophia Coppola’s shoulders. Yes, she is rather wooden in her portrayal of Mary, but she is not really even a major character in the film. Meaning she does not have enough screen time to completely wreck things. If everything else around her was solid she just would have been something we could laugh at.
Though this is far from his finest film there are moments of brilliance within Francis Ford Coppola’s film. No matter the quality of the scene the cinematography and lighting is always impeccable.
Though he is a bit of a ham and probably always has been, Al Pacino does the character of Michael Corleone right. The scene where he slips into the diabetic coma is laugh-out-loud funny because of his overacting. It sorta took the drama out of a scene that should have been incredibly moving.
- Collectible Portraits with Frame
- Original Theatrical Art Cards
- Corleone Legacy Family Tree