Saturday, June 11, 2005

Movie Review: The Godfather

United States, 1972
Running Time: 2:51
Rated: R (Violence, mature themes, language, brief nudity)
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Al Lettieri, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, John Cazale, Richard Conte, Al Martino

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Albert S. Ruddy
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo based on the novel by Mario Puzo
Music: Nino Rota
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said concerning the excellence of The Godfather. Nonetheless, I present the umpteenth dissertation on why not giving The Godfather four out of four stars is about as unjust as sentencing an innocent man to death.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 effort is truly an epic for the ages. The acting, directing, cinematography, score, and script are all of the highest possible caliber—making the near three-hour running time more of a blessing than an inconvenience. The Godfather is not only the Don of all Mafia melodrama, but it is also the standard grade of superiority for critics and filmmakers alike.

Based on Mario Puzo’s bestseller of the same name, the story begins in 1945 at the wedding of Connie (Talia Shire), the daughter of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). Even on his daughter’s day of celebration, Don Vito still manages to take care of “business.” After a few men grace his presence and ask for a few favors – revenge, a leading role, etc. – the Don unites with his family for the ceremony. His youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), who has recently returned home from war a hero, brings his new love Kay (Diane Keaton), and the Don's two older sons, Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), along with his “adopted” son and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), also come to celebrate their sister’s special occasion.

With each of the five major mob families straining to gain ground on one another, the budding industry of narcotics presents a forum for a few to achieve a competitive advantage. However, it is Don Vito who declines Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), the drug supplier, of his offer to commence an involvement in narcotics trafficking. His son and heir apparent, Sonny, obviously disagrees with his father’s choice – seeing that drugs are the wave of the future – but the Godfather does not concede. Don Vito understands that the drug industry is a cutthroat business where friends are few and far between. It is this rejection that spirals the Corleone family down a brutal one-way street that will both cost the five families many lives, and allow a new Don to emerge.

Al Pacino plays the supporting role of Michael with fire in his eyes. His transformation, from a civilian to a Godfather in both senses of the term, is the film’s main and most dynamic storyline. In almost every sense, Pacino steals the thunder out from under Brando; nonetheless, Brando’s role is perhaps the most iconic role in all of cinema. His character, styled after real life mobster Frank Costello, is one of the films many highlights.

Despite an unmistakable missed punch, a few continuity issues, and an abundance of character roles to keep straight, The Godfather remains one of the most influential films in cinematic history. Not only will Brando’s husky whisper continue to be copied for generations to come, but also the only fruit that shares its name with its color will always signify an impending death or violent incident.

Aside from all of the orange metaphors, The Godfather’s resounding themes on the duality of man – love and hate, good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, and family and violence – allow it to emit an atmosphere like no other film. The Godfather is the utter embodiment of the ultimate “guy film”, yet whether you are a male or female or a frequent or infrequent moviegoer is not dependent on how much appeal you will hold towards this first-rate pulp crime drama. Regardless of your status, you will be taken aback by its magnificence.

On The Internet Movie Database’s website, The Godfather is listed as the number one favorite movie of all time, and on The American Film Institute’s chart of the “100 Years…100 Movies,” it is listed as the number three greatest film. First or third, there is no question why The Godfather holds a spot on a gaggle of Top 10 lists, mine included. It is a seminal classic that will only continue to steamroll sovereignty, praise, and admiration. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005