Sunday, 4 April 2010

Movie Review: The Godfather (1972)


The epic tale of a Mafia family in New York, spanning ten years from 1945 to 1955. The business is crime, the price of failure is death, and the violence is brutal and never far from the surface. This adaptation of Mario Puzo's book is at once haunting, beautiful, and unforgettable.

Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) is The Godfather, the New York-based head of one of five dominant Mafia families. He controls an empire with interests and influence in everything from gambling and prostitution to politicians and judges, as well as a sprawling family including sons Santino (James Caan), Michael (Al Pacino), and Fredo (John Cazale).

When they refuse to provide protection to the burgeoning narcotics business, the Corleone's are embroiled in a bloody tit-for-tat gangland war. The Don barely survives an assassination attempt, his hot-headed son Santino is spectacularly gunned-down, and the previously disengaged Michael dives headlong into the violent world of his family, personally gunning down a corrupt police chief and a rival criminal boss before fleeing to Sicily. When an uneasy peace is declared, Michael returns to New York, seeking both ultimate control and cold-blooded vengeance. Michael's rise to power from a disinterested and side-lined observer to the nexus of power is the key story arch.

As one of the greatest movies ever made, and at almost 3 hours in length, it is difficult to believe that The Godfather was the first major movie for both Francis Ford Coppolla and Al Pacino. Coppolla directs in a tableau style that turns almost every scene into a masterpiece of framing, texture and artistry, with the camera placement and movement just as interesting as the on-screen content. Every scene is given time to expand, evolve and add depth and complexion to events and characters.

One of the best cast of actors ever assembled delivers iconic performances. Pacino and Brando have the most interesting material to work with, with Brando as Don Corleone transitioning from a dominant all-powerful figure to a doddering grandfather, while Pacino is riveting as Michael is gradually transformed into a ruthless and power hungry mob leader. James Caan gets the showy role as Santino "Sonny" Corleone, excited by violence and quick to resort to it. Robert Duvall as the family's lawyer, Tom Hagen, embodies the overlap of business veneer and outright crime that defines everyday life for the Corleones.

The movie plays out against the classic music score of Nino Rota. The main theme is one of the all-time most recognized movie tunes, and by itself is capable of evoking the grandness of the Corleone's story.

The Godfather's contribution to both the history of movie-making and mainstream culture is hard to overestimate. The classic line "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"; the inter-cutting of the church baptism scene with the violent assassinations ordered by Michael; the sympathetic portrayal of mobsters; Brando's menacing performance as Don Corleone; and the operatic assassination of Sonny have all had remarkable and long-lasting influence.

Deservedly considered an all-time classic, The Godfather is a stellar example of what the art of film can achieve when a great story meets inspired movie-making talent.






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