I think trying to deconstruct what it is that I love about The Godfather so much is already its greatest challenge when so much of the praise that it receives is well-deserved. The Godfather is truly one of the greatest films ever made, but trying to type up my own praises was already hard enough when I already have an ingrained fear inside of my head that what I had to say would indeed just be the same as what’s already been said prior. But having the opportunity to see The Godfather in theaters only opened my eyes to something greater as a whole, because it had been less than half a year since the last time I revisited such a dense piece of work, and rather quickly I only found my own appreciation growing – finding so many smaller details catching my attention far more, to that point I can only join in and regurgitate what I know has already been said: The Godfather is truly one of the greatest films ever to have been made.
Francis Ford Coppola only sets up a saga from The Godfather, a tale of the criminal life of the Corleone family. Marlon Brando stars as Don Vito Corleone, with Al Pacino playing our protagonist, Michael Corleone – the Don’s son. In a tale about corruption of power and betrayal at the hands of disillusionment, what Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo have formed from Puzo’s own novel of the same name is something so intricate, it’s especially difficult trying to get down to why it all works as perfectly as it does. This film details a family of power undergoing a rise and fall, but because this is only the first chapter in a grand saga, it was only fitting that we start at a significant point within this criminal lifestyle that the Corleone family is living. But there’s another sort of wonder coming about with how it goes on with its portrait of the American dream, crumbling down to the bones upon its own self.
At its very richest, The Godfather is a masterclass character study – for every minute of its near three hour length we see every facet of a family putting pieces together, all of which soon result to their eventual downfall. But the many perspectives that find themselves coming into play only add to what wonder The Godfather presents as it runs; for we have the patriarch in Vito Corleone finding himself in a state of life where he knows his own fate, even if it is not something he would have wanted. Michael Corleone is a man who is dedicated to protecting his own family’s legacy in some way or another, but Coppola always keeps every character under the guise of a regular human citizen: for that’s how they always try to live, but their power brings them to a point of psychological breakdown. Everyone comes and goes at the commands of those in power, and at the same time some would only want to get their hands on it – now as the story begins to present itself within the mannerisms of a Greek tragedy.
But what’s perhaps most amazing to me about The Godfatheris how much is romanticizes this lifestyle, only going ahead to expose its more destructive side at the same time. We hear all the time about how much is done as “business,” to that point where its own human characters are already coming to lose a grasp on what it is that has given them their own identity. The most evident case we have here is present with Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, but at the same time we also see Brando’s Don Vito Corleone coming to terms with the consequences of this lifestyle – for he knows already what is set to come forth if he doesn’t want such. The Corleone family is confined within a moral high ground, to the point they destroy whatever gets in their own way even if it means they will end up losing their own selves within the process. But in some sense it could almost be seen as the “American way,” because they have it in mind they are right, like a group of politicians: only to find by the end of their own time, damage has come in some form.
And back down to the basics: The Godfather is a technical masterpiece. Every frame as shot by the brilliant Gordon Willis moves by, like watching a painting, just as every performance from the cast only signifies the best. In arguably his most popular role, Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone is not only presenting a career defining moment on the screen, but one of the most tragic character arcs ever to have been depicted in American cinema. In the exact same sense, we have the story of his son Michael Corleone, with Al Pacino at his very finest, in a more destructive yet always hypnotic role. Every image fits perfectly in creating an environment for his own actors, but perhaps this was already set to have been expected from the direction of Francis Ford Coppola, always subtle and refined. And as every minute of the film’s incredible running time passes by, not a single second is wasted for exposition but with the screenplay by both Coppola and author Mario Puzo, it feels like a novel being put on the screen in the best sense.
Everyone knows already what it is that defines The Godfather and what it has done for cinema as a whole, considering its stature as one of the greatest films ever to have been made. And on that count, every word of its reputation is perhaps not earned as much, for it also is one of the finest works of art ever to have been made. Cinematic storytelling has only found itself at one of its highest points with The Godfather and at the same time, what has also come by is a symphony of life and death – unlike any other. But on every watch it continues to blow me away with how much more I catch every time, because of a great tragedy we feel within the lifestyle that Coppola romanticizes here. It isn’t simply a tale of family business that we are watching as we are told the story of the downfall of the Corleone family, it is the perfect deconstruction of the American pathos we have found.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo, from the novel by Puzo
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Marley, John Cazale, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, Talia Shire
Release Year: 1972
Running Time: 177 minutes