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The Godfather

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Godfather

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rated: R
RunTime: 175 Minutes
Release Date: March 1972
Genres: Classic, Crime, Drama, Action

*Also starring: Rudy Bond, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Sterling Hayden

Review by Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

Celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary in 1997 is one of the most important movies in the history of film. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather' is actually one of those very rare occasions when the movie is actually an improvement over the book by Puzo. Spanning approximately ten years (1945 to 1955), the film tells many different stories. To simply say that this motion picture is about organized crime would be shallow and inept to say the least. To properly list everything 'The Godfather' is about would constitute writing a book in the single context of this review so to make things easy, see the film if you haven't already done so. Those of you who share the belief that it is one of the greatest films ever also must believe that it's greatness is not only derived from what appears on the screen but the events that transpired to make it happen.

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is arguably the film's protagonist but that view is not shared by everyone as we will discover later in this text. Some other contenders for the leading role as the head of the fictional Corleone crime family (portrayed as the most powerful in America at that time) included Danny Thomas, Ernest Borgnine and Laurence Olivier. All of them admirable choices but Brando brought a dapper quality of refined essence and a sharply perceptive amount of dignity and wisdom to this role. His three sons by blood, Michael (Al Pacino), Santino or Sonny (James Caan), and Fredo (John Cazale all display the highest amount of family love and loyalty although Michael prefers to take a back seat to the "family business" and decides to live a life separate from that of his brothers. Also included as one of the Corleone brothers is Robert Duvall as the adopted German-Irish son whom Don Corleone relies on as his attorney.

Director Coppola is the real genius of this production which was originally intended as a trashy, low budget money maker for the studio but Coppola crafted it into a masterpiece of sublime and clandestine story telling with character development of the highest order. It's hard to believe that at one point the executive, non-creative branch of the film's development actually wanted either Jack Nicholson, Ryan O'Neal or Robert Redford in the part of Michael and Coppola stood alone in his decision to cast Pacino and James Caan also auditioned for the role of Michael and Coppola is rumoured to have asked Diane Keaton who she wanted as Michael because her role as Kay Adams, the woman who would eventually fall victim as Michael's wife, would prove to be a pivotal one and the chemistry would have to be right. Keaton reportedly chose Pacino as her preference and most of the film's casting was set.

'The Godfather' opens with what we would eventually see is a family wedding but before that we hear 'I believe in America...' before the film's first visual frame opens and an undertaker is telling Vito Corleone that he needs him to set up a hit on two men responsible for permanently injuring his daughter in an attempted rape. Corleone refuses and explains his philosophy for the refusal and the film immediately displays a quality of intelligence and depth. As 'The Godfather' progresses the audience is drawn into the family wedding scene which lasts approximately half an hour so the audience would be fully introduced to the film's colourful cast of major characters. It's a repetitive trademark Coppola would use in all three 'Godfather' films as a way to breed familiarity into linking all three films together although they are all vastly different.

The real attraction in 'The Godfather' aside from Brando is Pacino. His characterization of Michael is impressive difference from the time the film opens until it concludes. Some would argue that Pacino and not Brando is the film's true protagonist and the debate that has raged all these years among fans of the film only re-enforces its stature as one of the best character studies in film history. Michael is a man who knows right from wrong but eventually becomes drawn (somewhat reluctantly) into a life of crime after his father is nearly murdered by a rival crime lord. He is the logical choice to replace his father one day as head of the family, something his father was always against. Sonny, the 'hotheaded' brother wouldn't have lasted because of his temper constantly clouding his judgement and Fredo was always the naive and weak son bent more on reaping the rewards of crime rather than working to achieve them. Robert Duvall probably has the most under rated role in 'The Godfather' as the fourth son, made to feel somewhat like an outsider as he is not a blood relative and his loyalty to the family is constantly tested. A test he always passed with flying colours. One classic scene has Brando and Pacino on screen together (they would share surprisingly little time on screen together which would turn out to be very effective) in a long conversation about the future of the family and what Brando always aspired Pacino would become.

Many reviewers have stated over the years that 'The Godfather Part II' (1974) is actually a better film than the original and having been the only sequel to win the Best Picture Academy Award in history is proof that even many in the film community feel the same way. In the opinion of this reviewer I believe that the sequel 'mushroomed' the story better and offered Coppola a chance to go to a broader horizon but overall, the original is preferred because of its freshness in breathig new life into the gangster category of film history. Its controversial subject matter stirred up much debate at the time of its release and is also certainly one of the most talked about films of all time. As 'The Godfather' draws to a conclusion it sets up Part II in such a way that you feel satisfied that you've seen Part I and it doesn't have a cliff hanger ending which is frustrating and empty.

Other members of the cast include Talia Shire (whose character would be greatly improved upon in the other two films), Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Al Lettieri, Al Martino, Abe Vigoda, Richard Conte, Morgana King and Alex Rocco.

'The Godfather' is one of the pioneering films that will carry the film industry into the next century and its important legacy is a testament not only to the talent of its cast, filmmakers and their crews but it's a film that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and is one of those classics that simply cannot be remade better than the original.

Copyright 1997 Walter Frith

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