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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 Brian Koller
4 stars out of 4

By the time it finished its run, "The Godfather" had the biggest box office gross of all time. It would remain the highest-grossing film until "Jaws" three years later. Of all the films that have held that title, "The Godfather" may be the best. Unlike later title-holders like "Star Wars", "E.T." or "Titanic" that relied at least partly upon special effects, the success of "The Godfather" came from its script, story, and characters. Perhaps better than any other film, "The Godfather" combines outstanding production, conventional storytelling, and commercial success.

The film was based on the best-selling novel by Mario Puzo, who also co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Francis Ford Coppola. Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is The Godfather, the Don (head) of a successful, tightly-knit family whose business is organized crime. Heir apparent is impulsive, hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), whose brothers are brooding Michael (Al Pacino), who tries to seperate himself from his criminal family, and Fredo (John Cazale), who can't seem to do anything right. Vito has also adopted level-headed Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall), now the family lawyer. Michael's second wife is Kay (Diane Keaton).

The film is set in the 1950s. Vito's refusal to enter the lucrative drug rackets puts him at odds with other Mafia families. A war between the families follows. Events place Michael as the Don, who plots vengeance against those who opposed or betrayed the Corleone family. Along the way, Michael changes from an idealistic and independent young man to a calculating, ruthless Mafia Don.

"The Godfather" has little comic relief, but the film is rich with ironies. 'Family' is considered to be very important by the Mafia leaders, and yet their very actions lead to the destruction of their own family. 'Loyalty' to the family is also vital, enforced by 'hits' that punish betrayal, and yet family members regularly betray one another. While Vito's word is his bond, the same doesn't apply to his son Michael, a smooth operator for whom words are merely another tool for information or influence. Non-Sicilians are outsiders, kept from knowledge of the 'family business', and even adopted son Hagan is sometimes excluded. Women are relegated to being household servants and child raisers, although this role gives them a longer lifespan than their vendetta-targeted husbands.

"The Godfather" won only three Academy Awards. But they were important ones: Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Screenplay. There were also nominations for Best Director (Coppola), Best Supporting Actor (Pacino, Caan, Duvall), Best Editing and Best Sound. Oddly, Nino Rota wasn't nominated for the compelling, mournful score, although he did win the British Academy Award for Original Film Music.

Pacino must have been surprised to have been nominated as a supporting actor, since he saw more screen time than Brando. But the Academy probably did not want to split the votes between Brando and Pacino. "The Godfather" recovered the languishing career of Brando, who did not attend the Academy Awards ceremony. He instead sent a minor actress who posed as an Indian named Sacheen Littlefeather, who refused the Oscar on the grounds that Hollywood discriminated against Indians. Brando was nominated for Best Actor the next year for "Last Tango in Paris", demonstrating that the Academy didn't hold a grudge.

Copyright 1997 Brian Koller

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