The Godfather (1972)

Synopsis: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Leah hadn’t seen it and I think everyone should, if only to be part of the pop culture conversation.

Brent’s Review:

“The Godfather” is the first of a three-part crime saga recounting the Corleone family’s attempts to stay in power. We meet Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) on the day of his daughter’s wedding, agreeing to grant favors to anyone who asks, per a Sicilian custom. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), his right-hand man, takes notes and helps keep things organized. His three sons – Santino (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale), and Michael (Al Pacino) – stalk the grounds and generally enjoy themselves. It’s a day of celebration.

Happy times fade, but that isn’t surprising. What also isn’t surprising is that it’s a result of Vito Corleone saying no to someone he shouldn’t have said no to. After an assassination attempt, there is a power vacuum at the head of the Corleone family. The Godfather is a crime epic featuring more than twenty main characters and sets spanning the entire United States and Italy. But the scale of its setting and ensembles can easily distract from the true premise: The Godfather is an examination of the transition of power in a crime family from a well-respected patriarch to the reluctant, but prodigal, son, Michael.

A lot of good ink has been spilled talking about the acting and direction of this film. After all, the film had four Best Actor nominations (only Brando won), but instead of retreading that very well-worn path, I’m going to talk about two items I don’t often hear about “The Godfather”: the writing and the cinematography.

The film is co-written by Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola and it won an academy award for the strength of its writing. This film boasts a script so dense and complex that the fairly straightforward tale we see ended up on the screen is nothing short of miraculous. Time and again, we find the most significant details to be small, seemingly innocuous. Consider: after Michael and a family friend narrowly dodge a confrontation with hitmen, Michael has to help the other man light his cigarette because the other man’s hands are shaking too violently to use his lighter. Michael’s aren’t shaking, which surprises him. These small actions are woven throughout the script and shrinks the scale of the film to a very basic level.

The cinematography is very underrated. Consider the opening shot in which the shadows cast upon the face of a disrespectful man make him look like a rodent, only a gleam of his eyes and front teeth showing. Or in another scene (my favorite shot in the entire film), Vito Corleone mourns the loss of one of his sons, only his upper torso dimly lit against a pitch-black background. It’s stunning.

Hollywood legend Howard Hawks once said that a good movie has three good scenes and no bad ones. “The Godfather” has half a dozen perfect scenes, a few more that are great, and the rest are good. That pretty much sums it up. It’s not my favorite of all time, but it’s a phenomenal film. See this movie.

Leah’s Review:

So we’ve come to it at last. “The Godfather”. Almost universally hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. I have to admit, I felt a lot of pressure watching this movie. Pressure to love it. Pressure to come to the same conclusion that it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s “The Godfather”.

I didn’t dislike “The Godfather.” But I didn’t quite love it either. Don’t get me wrong- it’s an expertly-made film in every way. From the script, to the cinematography, and the acting- it feels like an authentic gangster film. It’s gritty, gruesome, and difficult to watch at times. It never feels flashy. The characters aren’t presented as the cool gangsters that the audience wants to emulate. We watch what occurs in the Corleone’s world- but we don’t really want to be a part of it. It’s exciting, to be sure. But a little too dangerous for our liking. We’ll stay safe on our couch, thank you very much.

I thought the acting was spot on. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall (amongst others) completely disappear into their respective roles. Keeping their performances from distracting us from what is going on in the story- and instead giving life to the plot and making the Corleone family a believable one. I was really impressed by the transformation of Pacino’s Michael Corleone from a respectable, honest young man into a cold, ruthless, and manipulative leader of an operation he never wanted to be a part of in the first place (the film does a good job of showing how the events that occur in the story influence Michael in the direction).

I see myself watching “The Godfather” again in the future. Not because I really liked it, but because I felt like there was so much that I missed. A large cast of characters (with names I couldn’t keep straight and thick accents I couldn’t always understand), an often dense plot including many intricacies of the mafia that were more assumed than explained certainly didn’t help. I also think that because I was expecting something more flashy, more ”glamorous” if you will (think “Goodfellas” or “Pulp Fiction”)- it was harder to keep up with this more subtle (and again, more accurate) representation of gangster life. I think keeping this in mind for my second viewing will make it a more enjoyable experience and provide me with a greater appreciation for this masterfully-made film.

Up Next: We’ll be on holiday at “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Peace out, kids.


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