The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

28Sep10

Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone). Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Rating: 18. Running time: 175 minutes.

The Godfather is a film so famous, a title and image so ingrained in the world’s consciousness, that it’s impossible to consider it like it’s any other film. How can I sit here typing, pretending I need to justify its status as one of the greatest of all movies? Everybody knows this is possibly the best Hollywood has ever given us, and proof if you ever needed it that popular entertainment does not necessarily have to also be bad art. At three hours films can oh so easily drag, but with a story as rich as this, a director as assured as Coppola at the helm, and a cast just about as damn near to perfection as you can get, and dullness isn’t even a logical possibility in this incredible, completely compelling and utterly believable world of Mafia-dominated 1940s New York, where corruption is the norm and an elite group of ageing Sicilian-born patriarchs monopolise all major markets, holding politicians and policemen in their pockets.

Marlon Brando becomes Vito Corleone. He has less screen time than the similarly excellent young Al Pacino, and the flawless Robert Duvall, but he makes more of an impact in this one role than most actors do in a lifetime, probably exceeding even his own ridiculously high standards and proving the capabilities of humans to pretend they are somebody else is even greater than what he showed in On The Waterfront. From the opening scene in which he sits, assessing the manners of the men demanding favours of him on his daughter’s wedding day and being offended by their rudeness, to his reaction to the death of his son, Santino Corleone, and the resulting meeting to commence peace talks with the rest of the five families, never does his performance cease to defy belief.

His decline, portrayed alongside the mafia’s war with itself over narcotics, is put alongside the rise of his son Michael, who goes from being a strictly-civilian war hero to becoming completely swamped in the family’s dark business. Both men give us so many scenes of note that despite its length, The Godfather is memorable at every moment without a single throwaway scene: the aforementioned wedding, with Sinatra-inspired celebrity Godson Johnny Fontaine; the horse’s head and the meeting and eventual shooting of Turk Virgil Sollozzo; Michael’s exile and marriage to Apollonia in Sicily; Vito’s last hours amongst the vineyard in his garden; the christening, scenes for which are interspersed so ironically with the shootings of all key Corleone rivals. All to the sound of Nino Rota’s haunting, unforgettable score.

I’ve used a lot of superlatives here, but it’s hard to hold back on a film this great in so many ways. I’d still say the best thing about The Godfather is Marlon Brando, but even without him it would be a film so iconically and remarkably legendary that when you’re starting your DVD collection, you’d be mad not to have this at the top of your to-buy list. Pure magic.

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