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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

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Walter Frith read the review ---
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4.  Dragan Antulov read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

"I believe in America," says Bonasera, the undertaker. "America has made my fortune." Bonasera, played with eventual unctuousness by Salvatore Corsitto, is speaking to a large figure in a darkened room. Bonasera's daughter was raped, and the American justice system failed her, so he told his wife that "for justice, we must go to Don Corleone." Marlon Brando, in the classic American movie THE GODFATHER, is Vito Corleone, Godfather to many and patriarch of a large and loyal family.

For its 25th anniversary the movie has been re-released to the theaters with a new print but not much visible restoration. Nevertheless, epic films exist to be seen on a big screen, and THE GODFATHER reflects director Francis Coppola's vision of a picture both vast and intimate.

The script by Coppola and the novel's author, Mario Puzo, opens at the wedding of the Godfather's daughter. This richly textured montage immediately sets the tone for the entire story. The Corleone family represents the ideal American family -- loyal and loving. All families have flaws, and theirs has to do with the family business. Everyone in the family, except the young college kid and war hero Michael (Al Pacino), is involved in the family's illegal business. Murder being the price of entry in their trade, the Corleone clan has long since been desensitized to violence by the requirements of their jobs. Only Michael appears untouched by the evil around him. Michael tells a frightening family story to his future wife, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), but distances himself from it. "That's my family, Kay," he assures her. "It's not me." Anna Hill Johnstone's costumes for Michael almost always include preppie ties to reinforce his putative innocence.

As in all good businesses, they must think strategically. Robert Duvall plays Tom Hagen, the only non-Sicilian in the family. An adopted stray, he is the family's lawyer (Consiglieri), levelheaded brain, and chief representative. "Now we have the unions, we have the gambling; and they're the best things to have," starts the Consiglieri's prophetic advice to the Godfather. "But narcotics is a thing of the future. And if we don't get a piece of that action, we risk everything we have -- I mean not now, but ah ten years from now."

Duvall and all of the actors in the film are perfectly cast. His Consiglieri has the cunning of someone who has no morals but total allegiance. Hitler would have been pleased to have had him as his second-in-command.

James Caan plays the loose canon brother named Sonny. Dressed sometimes in just a sleeveless undershirt, his performance smolders as if a personal firestorm is always imminent.

Brando won the Academy Award for his performance, and it is his signature role. Looking like a big, friendly teddy bear, he is alternately the all loving father figure and the head of a brutal crime syndicate. Watch especially how delicate and pronounced are his hand gestures -- the subtle movement of his fingertips in front of his mouth when thinking and the placing of his hand solemnly on his heart when making a promise.

Done by someone less capable than Coppola, the movie would have become just an impressive gangster movie -- full of large scale violence. Certainly it is that, but the beauty of THE GODFATHER is in the intimacy and realism of the script. "Don't forget the cannoli!" screams Mrs. Clemenza (Ardell Sheridan) to her husband (Richard Castellano) on his way to work. Work that day consists of seeing that an errant coworker has his brains blown out.

The cinematography by Gordon Willis and the sets by Dean Tavoularis create two worlds. The business side is conducted in darkly paneled rooms with ominous shadows everywhere. The family side is full of celebrations filmed in gorgeous autumnal colors and with beautiful sets. The great Nino Rota's music similarly blends delightful, almost folk music with somber funeral cadences.

William Reynolds's editing deserves a special mention with two particularly stunning scenes coming to mind. After the Godfather dies in the tomato patch, Reynolds dissolves the image into a convoy of black Cadillacs bearing masses of flowers on their way to the gravesite. As soon as the transition starts, funeral bells ring out with great majesty as if a king has died.

The other scene comes toward the end when Michael is acting as Godfather to his niece at her baptism. The priest asks him, "Do you renounce Satan?" Before his answer, "I do renounce him," the editor cuts to a scene of Clemenza blowing Strachi away with a shotgun. As the priest continues with the baptismal litany, the editor continues these seamless transitions between good and evil. One of the messages of the film is the duality of man, and no sequence in the film illustrates it better than this one.

THE GODFATHER is a seminal film in the American cinema. Examining the meaning of family, violence, love, betrayal, and loyalty just to name a few, its quality set a standard that few films have matched. An unforgettable motion picture, but one worth seeing again and again.

THE GODFATHER runs just the right length at 2:55. It is rated R for violence, profanity, nudity, and sex. The violence can be quite shocking so I would recommend the film for teenagers only if they can handle its intensity. I give this classic film my strongest recommendation and a full ****.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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