Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Godfather

Movie Reviewed: The Godfather

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Date Reviewed: 14 July 2010

Rating: ****

I haven't seen The Godfather in many, many years, but from the opening shot (a slow zoom out on an undertaker pleading Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) for justice), I was exhilarated. Coppola's film is a bona fide American classic, imbued with rich characters, unforgettable scenes, and towering performances by Brando and Al Pacino.

Pacino plays Michael Corleone, the war hero returning home for the wedding of his sister Connie's (Talia Shire). There's Fredo and Sonny Corleone, the wannabee and hothead brothers, respectively.

I cannot say enough about the opening scenes. Coppola depicts a sense of the inner and outer circles of the Corleone family, with Don Vito and Consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) peeking out at who is arriving at the wedding, commenting on motives and possible requests. Per Sicilian tradition, Don Vito must grant the requests of any man on his daughter's wedding day. Asylum is granted, horses heads are removed, and through it all, Don Vito remains a quietly lethal, yet benevolent figure, arguing against the Corleone family's involvement in the rising drug trade.

Watching the film now as a 31-year old, I was struck by how much Don Vito resembled my own grandfather (or my memories of him). Brando's raspy voice (achieved with the infamous cotton balls and a fitted mouthpiece) make understanding him challenging; his mannerisms and gestures befit a man of his fading power and age. Yet, even at the end, Don Vito's omniscience rules over every scene; he advises his son Michael after an ill-fated assassination attempt leaves Michael to enter the loathed family business.

A few words about Al Pacino. Pacino's power in this movie is his transformation from reluctant warrior into ruthless Mafia don, capable of dispatching anyone with elaborate schemes. The cross-cutting in the final scenes of the baptism and assassinations is one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen on film. Pacino is brilliant; he's degenerated into a caricature today, a bloated, abnormally red-faced histrionic shouter, but he is capable of such depth and power.

It all comes back to those first scenes: wedding celebration, dark work being done in the shadows, singing and dancing, politicians being bribed, family being hugged and welcomed, the posing of a family portrait...resonating with Michael's final, prophetic pronouncement to his ill-fated brother Fredo: "Never go against the family." Indeed.

One of the best films ever made. I will watch this film forever.

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