For the two of you keeping score, I haven’t written a 5-star review on my blog since my EPIC (at least to me) Dark Knight Trilogy post last year. And I haven’t written about a film from the 1970s since my 2011 review of the original (and far superior than its forgettable-ass remake) “Straw Dogs”, and to a certain extent, last year’s “Movies that go BUMP in the night” post as well. With this post however, I plan to metaphorically kill two endangered birds with one shotgun. In keeping with the theme of the Oscars, I’ll be reviewing a Best Picture Academy Award winner that’s actually the first in a film trilogy widely considered to be one of film history’s most influential and iconic: the Godfather Trilogy.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the 1969 crime novel “The Godfather” written by Italian-American author Mario Puzo (who assisted Francis in the screenplay for each film), the Godfather Trilogy (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974) and The Godfather, Part III (1990)) begins with the transition of power within a New York crime family from father to son in the mid-40s, continues with the transformation of the son into a ruthless Mafia boss in the late-50s, and ends with him tragically facing the consequences of his past transgressions in the late-70s. Starring the late, great Marlon Brando as the patriarch Vito Corleone and Al Pacino (a.k.a. everyone’s favourite coke-snorting, cock-a-roach burying, don’t give a fuck – ing, Cuban immigrant turned drug kingpin “Scarface”) as his son Michael Corleone and the main protagonist of the entire trilogy.
Both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II won Academy Awards for Best Picture (obviously), Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Godfather, Part II also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which was given to no other but Robert DeNiro (nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Silver Linings Playbook”), who played a young Vito Corleone. However, The Godfather, Part III, which was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, Original Song and Art Direction, didn’t win SHIT at the 1991 Academy Awards! The Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars were snatched by a little film directed by and starring Kevin Costner called “Dances with Wolves”. And in retrospect, it was a really good movie, but it’s nowhere close to the sheer awesomeness that is….. (drumroll please)
“Goodfellas”, Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus, the one that re-defined the Mafia movie after Francis Coppola created the blueprint with the first two Godfather films, and in case you were wondering, one of my all-time favourite movies. But let’s get back to the subject at hand. The first two Godfather films are praised by film lovers the world over, and hailed as two of the greatest films ever made. The third, and admittedly weakest, film in the trilogy, has gained a bad reputation for being one of the worst “threequels” (not a real word, people) ever made (like “X-Men: The Last Stand”, “The Matrix Revolutions” and “Spider-Man 3” to name a few). How a revered film franchise like The Godfather Trilogy was able to rise to the top and fall so far from grace (just like Michael Corleone – ironically) will be debated for years to come. But for the purpose of this write-up, this review is all about the one that started it all – the grandpappy, or should I say godpappy, of gangster films…..(drumroll again please. I said drumroll, motherfucker!)
“THE GODFATHER” – Part Uno of the trilogy begins during a lavish wedding reception for Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) only daughter Connie (Talia Shire, or as Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” anthology calls her: “ADRIAAAAAAAN!!”). As Vito is the Godfather, he spends his time in his office, hearing requests from various individuals. Outside, his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a Marine and WWII hero, introduces his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to his family, and gives her a glimpse into the inner workings of his father’s crime family. “That’s my family. Not me” says Michael as a response to Kay’s stunned expression. Apart from Vito, Michael, Connie and Kay, some of the film’s major characters are introduced in the wedding reception: Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Vito’s adopted son and official consigliere or adviser; Sonny (James Caan), Vito’s eldest son; Fredo (John Cazale), Vito’s second oldest son; Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), Vito’s enforcer; Salvatore Tessio (Abe Vigoda) and Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), two of Vito’s old partners-in-crime and official “capos” or “made men” in the Corleone crime family.
Anyhoo, drug kingpin Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), backed by the Tattaglias (rivals of the Corleones), asks Vito for financial support and political protection for his business. Vito doesn’t want anything to do with drugs or the drug trade (imagine the day a fucking gangster becomes a spokesperson for an anti-drug campaign, folks. Hmmmm) and refuses Virgil’s request. Luca, sent to spy on Virgil and the Tattaglias, ends up “sleeping with the fishes” LITERALLY (Google search this term and you’re bound to see his name pop up. That’s how synonymous Luca Brasi’s name has become with fish, sleep and Ambien, apparently). But everything changes when the Tattaglias attempt to assassinate Vito, and Michael decides to take revenge. What follows is a moral journey where family ties are tested, traitors are revealed and retaliation becomes bloody. And in the end, Michael, who initially refused to get himself involved in the family business, becomes the new Godfather and Don of the Corleone crime family.
“The Godfather” is about many things. It could be viewed as a look into the dark side of the ‘American Dream’ and the pursuit of it by violent means. Also, in a sense, it shows the destructive nature of retaliation, which has been, and still remains, the basis of modern warfare. But the film’s true theme is family. Now don’t get me wrong: the film is called “The Godfather”. It’s not like “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos” (a TV show that owes its successful-as-fuck six-season run to the foundation created by the Godfather Trilogy in terms of the Mafia film sub-genre) where there’s more than one person in the title. The Godfather himself is the centerpiece of the entire film. But as I mentioned earlier, the power of the Corleone crime family is passed on from Vito to Michael. And as such, both Vito and Michael assume the role of the film’s protagonist. Through a superbly written script by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, two stories are actually being told within the same time frame: the fall of Vito and the rise of Michael. But the events of the film, and the way in which each is set up and executed, are constructed so well that it’s easy to get swept away with the overall story of the film and forget that it’s really about two men.
Getting the obvious out of the way, the acting in this film is fucking PHENOMENAL! Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is iconic in every sense of the word. The subtle mannerisms that Brando exudes out of his character (consider the close-up of his face in a heartbreaking scene in the film, where he looks at the dead body of one of his sons (I won’t say who. You probably know who it is anyway) and utters “Look how they massacred my boy”) embody the technique of method acting that made him a legend. His raspy voice, puffy cheeks and famous lines that he delivers (his most memorable one being, of course, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”) have been imitated for decades since the film’s release. But also to his character, Brando brings a sense of deep-rooted wisdom that comes with age. He regularly gives advice to his sons and associates and, with a gangsta-like sixth sense (Instead of “I see dead people”, he should be saying “I see people I want DEAD!”), is capable of spotting betrayal from a mile away. Al Pacino is excellent as Michael Corleone, and his character transition from that of an unconcerned man to the tyrannical ruler of his father’s criminal empire gives the story an almost Shakespearean feel. The supporting cast is great as well. James Caan’s Sonny Corleone is a hothead, and dare I say, a BADASS! As the most impulsive of the Corleone sons, he gets pissed off rather easily. There’s a famous scene where Sonny beats the SHIT out of his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) on the street, in broad daylight, for abusing Connie. Old-school ass whoopin’ never looked better than in that scene! Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen is the opposite. He’s calm, resourceful and acts like a silent observer over the family’s decision-making. Diane Keaton plays Kay Adams with enough sympathy that you can’t help but feel sorry for her when Michael, the love of her life, slowly slips away from her fingertips. But despite the imperfections of the Corleone family (and boy, is there a fucking lot), they are generally sympathetic characters. They’re not presented as evil people, but as a family born out of a cycle of violence that originated from their ancestral home in Corleone, Sicily, where young Vito was born and where he adopted his surname (in case you were wondering). It’s both understandable and ironic that after Michael commits his first major crime during one of the film’s major turning points, he would choose that place for his self-exile.
The cinematography by Gordon Willis is impressive by today’s standards. The shadowy interiors and vivid, brightly-lit exteriors help create a visual contrast between the closeted world of the Mafia and a developing America of the 1950s. Also, the buildings, industries and hustle-and-bustle of New York City are contrasted with the beautiful, quiet, community-based town of Corleone The direction by Francis Ford Coppola and the editing by Peter Zinner and William H. Reynolds are near-flawless. The film’s memorable climax for example, in which scenes of Connie’s son being christened (and where Michael stands as Godfather) are inter-cut with the bloody murders of all Vito’s enemies, is a classic example of direction and editing working perfectly in sync. And what’s a review about “The Godfather” without the music? Nino Rota’s score for the film is TIMELESS! The music matches perfectly with the emotions present in each scene it’s used in, from joy and love to tension and sadness. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you probably must have heard the famous “Godfather Waltz” main theme song on some other movie, or TV show, or cartoon, or local news report, or porno flick (if you’re into that XXX parody shit). But when you do, and you can mark my words, it’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of your life! When you die, the last song on your head may very well be the “Love Theme for the Godfather”. Or Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”….but that’s if you die outside a nightclub – God forbid.
Now before I give my verdict on “The Godfather”, I must inform you (or remind you) that the film is exactly 175 minutes long. And I know what you’re thinking. Matter of fact, I can write out what you’re thinking:
“175 MINUTES?! REALLY?! OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, SOOOOOO LONG! I CAN’T SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE? ARE YOU CRAZY?! HOW COULD ANYBODY SIT THROUGH THAT? I COULD NEVER SIT THROUGH A THREE-HOUR MOVIE LIKE…..Wait, what did you just say? They’re showing “Titanic” on TV? OH MY GOD, THAT IS LIKE, MY FAVOURITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME! I CAN DEFINITELY SIT THROUGH THAT MOVIE! LEO DiCAPRIO! WHOOOOOO!!!” (NOTE: You can replace “Titanic” and Leo’s name with any one of the Lord of the Rings films and any actor/actress from the franchise if you’d like. I’m just sayin’).
And the point of that paragraph is:-
Unless you genuinely hate epic dramas or gangster films, have a low tolerance level for films that go beyond the two-hour mark, or suffer from A.D.D., “The Godfather” is undoubtedly a must-see movie. It’s like….the law! You just HAVE to see this movie! If you truly call yourself a movie lover, you MUST see this film. It has a great story, great acting, great music, memorable scenes, quotable dialogue and of course, glorious scenes of R-rated violence that one expects from a crime movie from the 70s. It’s been hailed as one of the greatest films in world cinema. It’s ranked as the second greatest American film ever made. It absolutely refuses to leave the No. 2 spot at the IMDB Top 250 list. And it stands as one of my all-time favourite films. What more should I say except:
“THE GODFATHER” – 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)