The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

I share my love for The Godfather with, I imagine, almost everyone on this site. The fact that it runs for close on three hours yet consistently grips the audience's excitement is a testament to the huge talent involved in realising the vision of Francis Ford Coppola.

It is a masterwork in characterisation, creating a galaxy of personages richly drawn, memorable and just plain fascinating. Vito is a subversion of what we would expect him to be, showing disdain for the life of murder and bloodshed that has got him where he is. But most interesting of all is Michael, almost the mirror of his father, initially shying away from a violent role in the family business. But family takes priority, and he forsakes principle for "duty", becoming a calculating murderer in the process. It takes filmmaking of extraordinary subtlety to pull off a character arc as sublimely ironic as this one.

The performances are, across the board, spectacular. Marlon Brando is scene-stealing if somewhat hard to read through his thick rasping accent and makeup. Al Pacino is frighteningly natural as Michael, almost getting us to feel sympathy for a man who is a slave to his lurching moral compass. James Caan and Robert Duvall provide more-than-sturdy support as the hothead and clear thinker respectively - although I think the strength of the latter performance owes much to Coppola's determination to cast Duvall in the role of Tom, as the striking physical contrast with the Italian American characters seems to emphasise a failure to fit in on his part.

As if having a great storyline and great performances wasn't enough, the film also feels the need to stun technically. Coppola here is nearing the artistic zenith he would achieve with Part II, indicated by his increasing skill in staging, lighting and camera movement to intensify and increase suspense. He successfully manages a tonal juggling act, as seen when the film swerves joltingly into (admittedly foreshadowed) violence. Credit should go to those in the artistic department for evoking the genuine feel of mid-century New York. And Nino Rota's music is worth a mention for obvious reasons.

Even if the horse's head scene has lost its impact on further viewings, the rest of The Godfather hasn't. After this decade, Coppola would never do anything so great again (look no further than The Outsiders), and it speaks for his confidence that what could so easily have been pulpy, sensationalist fare in the hands of any other director was elevated to true art by him alone.

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