According to just about everyone, 1972’s “The Godfather” is an ageless masterwork by legendary director, Francis Ford Coppola. And just about everyone is right. It isn’t just the acting, the dialogue, the direction, source material or cinematography. It’s all of it done to near perfection that makes this film all that it is said to be.
When pre-production began on “The Godfather,” many notable actors lined up looking for roles in the film. Everyone seemed to feel there was something special in the works. Paramount, eager to get out of a late 60’s and early 70’s slump at the box office, was praying for a hit, and hopeful this was it.
The result was a beautiful film that provided and still provides any viewers of it a sprawling and immersive narrative.
The film all begins with a young marine returning from World War II to his family that is as proud of him as it is powerful in the criminal underworld. He is young, handsome and brimming with the glimmer and gleam of future success. His name is Michael Corleone, and he does not want to share careers with his mafia kingpin father, Vito.
This dynamic of father and son is one of the unique characteristics of “The Godfather.” Here you have two of the greatest actors of all-time playing father and son, Al Pacino as Michael and Marlon Brando as Vito, and their relationship is realistic. For any other type of film, the possible presentations of relationships between father and son all converge and play out somewhat predictably. In “The Godfather,” however, you have a mafia don and his son at a fundamental disagreement with how they live and what their career goals are, but they are still loving and respectful of one another. There aren’t fights between the two, only love and acceptance.
Which are qualities that are often lacking in mafia or crime films. And that is why “The Godfather” excels. Where other films would have Michael next in line to run the family business, Vito wants his son to stay away from the illegalities and ruthlessness of the mafia and leave it to his older brothers. His brothers, Fredo and Sonny, however, lack Michael’s cunning.
Inevitably, Michael succeeds his father as don of the family. But in route to this position of power, Michael suffers great loses that leave irreparable damage to his heart and mind, leaving him at a constant simmer and making him a ruthless mafia don that will do anything for his family.
That being said, Michael doesn’t fall down the traditional path of untimely demises in mob movies. Instead, Michael illustrates more and more throughout the film that he is a survivor. This dynamic and adaptive nature of Michael Corleone is what makes him so interesting to watch when he does the most mundane of things. Not to mention the way Pacino portrays Michael as a wound-up spring in a fine china shop, ready to jolt out with great consequence at any moment, leaving the audience on the edge of our seats.
Throughout the acclaimed motion picture, we are given a glimpse into the life of mob royalty. Kissing of rings, multimillion-dollar illegal deals and debauchery of the highest degree. All of which are expected fare at a mob smorgasbord.
While “The Godfather” was by no means the first or last film about the mob, and the lifestyle lived by mafiosos, it still managed to expertly craft a story of the complexities of life into a compelling story of mafia royalty and family turmoil. It’s why it will rightfully always be in contention for greatest all-time film.
Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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