The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

***One of the best 150 films I have ever seen.***

Conglomerating the charm that Italian classics had, the brilliance of crime films of the Golden Age of movies and one of the most ambitious directions any auteur could ever apply in the entire history of the motion picture, the filmic treatment that Mario Puzo's original novel was subject to back in the marvelous film year of 1972 placed The Godfather in one of the most superior categories of cinema ever conceived by mankind. Following the unfortunate American tradition of not giving the full recognition that outstanding geniuses deserve in their particular era, the capacity of Francis Ford Coppola of portraying a powerful crime manifesto from a partially American style came slightly unnoticed. However, this capacity would be finally recognized until the release of the highly competitive sequel: The Godfather: Part II (1974). The Godfather is quite possibly the best American film ever made, ranking along the superiority of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), a task that already constitutes a nearly unsurpassable and considerably expert achievement. It is a film released at the exact right time that literally changed, perhaps permanently, the perspective that the audiences of the 70's, a decade that was barely starting regarding cinema, had towards the art of filmmaking. The film has changed lives and has created fans around the world, transforming Francis Ford Coppola into one of the best directors in America that completely caused a sudden filmic boom, including Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express [1974], Jaws [1975]), George Lucas (American Graffiti [1973], Star Wars [1977]) and Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets [1973], Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore [1974]), an Italian director. It has also redefined the crime genre once more, just like Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) did during their respective decades, especially regarding the nowadays prolific gangster branch.

The Godfather is the first part of a crime trilogy, focusing on the aging don Vito Corleone and his Corleone Mafia Family that represents a very big part of the organized crime within the city of New York. The film opens with the overseeing of his daughter's wedding and introduces Michael Corleone, his beloved son who has recently returned from the Second World War and who does not have the slightest interest in belonging to his father's business. A rival of Corleone named Virgil Sollozzo seeks Vito Corleone and asks him for protection while offering a payment of drug money; however, the morality of Vito does not allow him to accept the payment, an event that will eventually release a sequence of violence, death, destruction and betrayal on the Corleone family and a brutal war between different parts of the organized crime. The film received 11 Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, Best Sound, Best Director, three nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Picture, winning only the last three Oscars and blasphemously losing most of the rest against the popular musical Cabaret (1972), directed by Bob Fosse, including the award for Best Director.

Francis Ford Coppola's particular approach towards the organized crime inevitably results in a cataclysmic explosion of unparalleled cinematographic brilliance. Every single talented element has been put together into a 3-hour timeless crime American masterpiece. The musical score composed by master Nino Rota has become a cinema icon, being endless times referenced throughout the upcoming decades and creating that very peculiar nostalgic and memorable feeling that makes the viewer to instantly remember the specific movie, just like Psycho (1960), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) managed to do, for mentioning famous examples of American filmmaking. Basically, every performance is extraordinary, forming fully developed, identifiable and even empathetic characters in the process. Marlon Brando, on the other hand, managed to portray one of the most powerful, multiphacetic and memorable film characters ever brought to the big screen, turning the appearance of a mad bulldog into a cold-blooded, fearless and loyal head of a mafia family. These talents are deliciously enlightened by a remarkable cinematography of Gordon Willis, atmospherically shooting the disciplined functioning of the underworld and capturing both the colonial beauties of the streets of Italy and a breathtaking old-New York art direction. The Seventh Art has been blessed.

The Godfather is, ultimately, a film rich in character. It plays homage of how a full organism is the consequent result of the sum of its parts. The film has different facets, from brutally portraying the world from the perspective that is usually hidden from the conventional members of a common, standard and stereotypical society to dramatically showing components that seem to resemble a Greek tragedy. Coppola reunited each and every one of the elements that could fully incarnate the interior structure of an operational mafia group, such as crime, betrayal, sex, violence, loyalty towards the family, competition, romance, marriage and passion, perhaps with the brilliant purpose of depicting a criminal portion of society that forcefully tries to fit in through the following of moral values and standards but escaping from the authorities when these standards are intentionally violated. The surprisingly graphic and merciless violence is compensated with the naturally irradiated beauty throughout, like witnessing an elegant and well-decorated orgy full of sin, which means that the story is shown from different points of view, not necessarily creating characters that could be interpreted as smarter and superior, but people who slowly climbed to the top of the world through the easiest and most incorrect path while possessing a distorted view towards the religion they possess.

This constant change of elements and perspectives would inevitably become an influential landmark for several future filmmakers, but whereas Martin Scorsese would add a strong dose of dark humor and a hyperactive pace, a fact that would influence the style of Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs [1992], Pulp Fiction [1994]), Coppola orchestrated an opera of distinct emotions and striking vibes. He also managed to smarty attract audiences with a famous cast, from an eternal legend (Marlon Brando) to talented ones (Al Pacino). Characters are shown from their most human sides. Vito Corleone's most relevant priorities are loyalty towards the family and the protection of the youth since it represents the future of a successful America. This argument is contradictory in its most literal sense, but it served the purpose of being a wonderfully stylish psychological complement. Vito Corleone is a young man who is unwillingly included into his own fate, experiencing a brutal change of personality while witnessing the cruelness of the world. The rest of the characters are just puppets who mindlessly feel that their obvious obligation is to obey the commands of their own Fuhrer. Their respective backgrounds remain mostly unclear, a fact that adds too much mysteriousness to the possible motives of their actions. Nevertheless, this would be one of the principal tasks held by the sequel: to reveal pasts and to bring the demons to their doom.

Criminals have disguised themselves as common citizens. A film has disguised itself as a true work of art. The Godfather is much more than a merely influential and revolutionary gangster testament; it is one of the best films ever made. An extraordinarily developed screenplay by one of the most passionate and stylish crime novellas ever written allowed a filmic plot to explosively unravel in front of the possibly unprepared audience. It is an epic of criminal proportions and a direct attack to the senses and cathartic emotions that may irremediably ensue. Nowadays, Coppola has got the credit that we, as faithful fans, had since the beginning, but that does not even seem to be enough. It is a towering achievement which vision will be hardly top in the future generations to come.


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