” I spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men.”
When you ask people to name the greatest film of all time, The Godfather tends to pop up as a response. I certainly hear it all the time. Film buffs will often point to Citizen Kane or something even more obscure to show off their prowess, but The Godfather was a hit. It’s the common man’s greatest film ever, and why not? It’s a three-hour crime epic with an engaging story, complex characters, and a wonderful direction that forever seals its place in cinema history. It set the bar for all gangster movies that followed, and it has become an iconic mark of American culture as a whole.
It would take a longer piece than I’m willing to write (and I’m sure has been written many times already) to point out everything The Godfather does well, but I’ll touch on a few bits that stick with me personally. This is a movie with its characters at the forefront. It’s the story of Michael Corleone’s transformation into Don Corleone, but it’s also the story of his family struggling to maintain greatness. It’s the story of Vito Corleone finding peace. It’s the story of Luca Brasi practicing that stupid speech over and over. It’s all of these stories that feel so genuine and bring the film above the standard gangster cliche. The notion that immigrants could be complex characters that carry a film alone was also relatively new to American cinema. The source material by Mario Puzo, self-adapted into the screenplay, is a fantastic tale that lends itself beautifully to an engaging story that no one had ever seen on a screen before due to these strong characters.
You would also be hard-pressed to find a cast with more talent. Marlin Brando and Al Pacino are two of the biggest names in cinema and are given two of the most fascinating characters of their time. It’s a recipe for success. Francis Ford Coppola focuses every actor into this fascinating style of realism that makes this more than a standard shoot-em-up film. It’s a real emotional journey for these characters. Mafia movies were suddenly allowed to have truly sympathetic characters after The Godfather made its premiere, and this is a testament to the strong direction of Coppola and his crew.
While the film runs for three hours, especially long for 1972, every scene serves a purpose. No character’s story feels weaker than another’s, which is important to a film with such a large cast on an epic scale. While I personally prefer the more upbeat, playful nature of more recent gangster films (Goodfellas, The Departed…), these films still owe huge debts to The Godfather for throwing out the rules of the genre and allowing a playfulness of form to emerge. In any modern gangster flick, you’ll see inevitable nods to the Godfather. It set a new blueprint for what these films were about: real, complex people and their goals.
It really is amazing how well the film holds up today. The scene early on where the man awakes to find himself covered in blood and his prize horse’s head at the foot of his bed – it’s still incredibly badass. Even more impressive is that iconic scene towards the end of Michael Corleone at church becoming the godfather of his enemy’s child while the screen cuts to various murders being performed at the same time. Phenomenal camerawork such as this is littered throughout the film, and Coppola proves himself to be one of the most important directors of the American New Wave.
Even those who aren’t fans of the film will admit to its impact: the Godfather is one of the most important films to come out of the country. It changed the game entirely and revitalized the crime genre with a beautifully crafted story that still delights audiences to this day. It is one of the most quoted and revered movies by all types of audiences, and it stands the test of time. The Godfather isn’t going away any time soon, and I’m certainly okay with that.
Films Left to Watch: 986