What more can be added to discussion on Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Mario Puzo’s post-war gangland epic, The Godfather? Honestly, probably not a lot, but as I have only just got round to watching it here are my thoughts.
Telling the story of the Corleone family in New York in the years between 1945 and 1955 it falls strongly into the mold of ‘New Hollywood’ that began in the late 1960s as French New Wave inspired filmmakers began to break away from Hollywood’s traditional studio system and create more groundbreaking films, often with more extreme situations including violence and subjects previous generations of mainstream film wouldn’t have tackled (for another prime example see Bonnie and Clyde).
The Godfather’s subject falls totally into this category too as the character who is, ostensibly, our hero, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), has a story arc that doesn’t fall on the traditional ‘hero’ track (saying more would be somewhat of a spoiler, so for those who still haven’t seen it I won’t).
This story is backed up by a film that is shot and directed as a total cohesive work in the best of ways so that the choice of shots, sounds and music all come together to add to the story being told through the words and action. While this is something that it probably sounds all films should do, it is, in my experience, rare that mainstream, big budget, films do this today as more impetus is put on special effects and highlighting ‘stars’ than on creating cohesive movies.
That said The Godfather does feature one big star from the time (along with many stars to be) in the form of Marlon Brando. Having become a legend since his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone it was good to go back to this point and see what the man who would be Jor-El did to gain this status (obviously I am aware his reputation began 20 years earlier) and Brando’s performance here is truly extraordinary.
Portraying a man considerably older than he was at the time there is never a moment where this was apparent and, as legend suggests, he seems totally taken over by the character from the opening scenes to the last and, while it has been parodied in pretty much every form imaginable, the performance pushes all of these aside to stand up as one of the best I’ve ever seen.
While Brando stands above all, the entire cast of main characters are all excellent performances with Pacino almost reaching Brando’s level and James Caan and Robert Duvall close behind.
With a final set piece that pulls all of the above-mentioned elements together, as the Corleone family establish their dominance and welcome a new member of the family in excellently contrasting style, The Godfather is that rare thing of being a film that more than lives up to its hype and reputation as one of the best films I’ve ever seen (and they say Part 2 is even better!).