Yes, even in 2011 I’m still (and always will be) fascinated with Mr. Al Pacino and his mafioso character from one of the definitive films of the 20th century, “The Godfather” – a triumph of cinematic storytelling. Not just for fans of gangster films. Family responsibility. A father’s legacy. The need to earn respect. The corrupting influence of power. These are some of the ingredients combined in Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic blender. They are themes which have intrigued the greatest authors of every medium through the centuries.
One of the jewels in the crown of the 70s cinema (as some describe it, the Golden Decade), The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone family. Itialian immigrants, caring people, and mafioso. From the first frame in which you see Marlon Brando’s face lit from in front and above like a dark angel to the last frame of the last film in which Al Pacino’s wineglass falls out of his hand as he slumps, the family gone and destroyed, The Godfather is the holy trinity of mob films. Every film after it has its influences in it, and, much like some people look towards the Star Wars trilogy for an answer to every question, many people do so for The Godfather.
I’ve just re-seeen the first part of it. And I realized I’m still fascinated with Al Pacino (Michael). His acting is purely brilliant. You just can’t not fall in love with him. Just try to recall the incredible well-constructed (and disturbing) scene where Michael stands serenely as godfather of Connie and Carlo’s son, and, as the christening proceeds – following his direct command – Corleone assassins murder each of the dons heading the other New York families. His transformation from “innocent” bystander to central manipulator is the stuff of a Shakespearean tragedy. By the end, this man who claimed to be different from the rest of his family has become more ruthless than Don Vito (Marlon Brando) ever was.
As scary as it is intelligent, as funny as it is touching, The Godfather is a prime example of the way cinema should be: excellent telling of complete stories. It is the film to top all films, one of the finest motion pictures not only of our time but of any time. As trite as all of these labels may sound, they are true. The Godfather has already stood the test of a quarter century, which equates to a quarter of the history of film. It will stand the test of time as time continues to plod on. As long as they teach cinema, they will teach The Godfather.
Of course, it may not be possible for a film to be faultless, but this certainly comes close. The ensemble cast are wholly convincing, and there are a string of well-known names involved who weren’t at all familiar until this film. The story progresses at perfectly measured pace, moving almost gently between moments of calculated violence. The cinematography and direction are picture-perfect, with immaculate attention to detail. Every aspect of life in those turbulent times is faithfully recreated with great accuracy. “The Godfather” is a credit to all involved.
Although the issues presented in The Godfather are universal in scope, the characters and setting are decidedly ethnic. Even to this day, there is an odd romanticism associated with New York’s Italian crime families. The word “Mafia” conjures up images of the sinister and mysterious – scenes of the sort where Luca Brasi meets his fate. Francis Ford Coppola has tapped into this fascination and woven it as yet another element of the many that make his motion picture a compelling experience.
We come to The Godfather like Kay Adams – outsiders uncertain in our expectations – but it doesn’t take long for us to be captivated by this intricate, violent world. The film can be viewed on many levels, with equal satisfaction awaiting those who just want a good story, and those who demand much more. The Godfather is long, yes – but it is one-hundred seventy minutes well-spent. When the closing credits roll, only a portion of the story has been told. Yet that last haunting image (Kay’s shock of recognition – as the film ends, Kay sees Michael receiving gestures of respect from other mafiosi, paralleling the treatment given his father, just before the door to his office is closed.), coupled with Nino Rota’s mournful score, leaves a crater-like impression that The Godfather part II only deepens.