The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

The Corleone Family has had several years running of excellence, at least, before the film has begun. Because the Corleones refuse to team up with lofty members from other five organized crime families in the narcotics racket because narcotics equates to unwanted exposure to authorities, that refusal leads to the beginning of a breakdown. Slowly but surely.

What establishes power for the film absolutely immediately is the clout that Marlon Brando bestows. Many already know behind the scenes that Brando stuffed his jowls with cotton balls; it gave the character wheezy speech (he’s a man who has been through a lot, correct?), but that doesn’t take away the Don’s master of authority. The character of Don Vito Corleone is the head of the most envious of New York’s families, a man to be kissed on the hand. And although he is a fearsome Mafioso, he lives by a code of ethics to bolster respect amongst immediate kin and friends. “I will give him an offer he can’t refuse” is though a one-sided command. A decapitated horse’s head is a last warning.

James Caan is Sonny Corleone, the hotheaded son who looks to be next in line to inherit the family’s power. Al Pacino is Michael Corleone, the educated son who is meant for a legitimate professional trajectory but is sucked into spheres of both loyalty and vengeance. John Cazale is the feckless oldest brother who unwisely talks against the family to detrimental effect. Robert Duvall is the family lawyer Tom Hagen, a non-Italian who would like to be granted the respectful name “consigliere” meaning in that he is full-counsel; in actuality, Hagen decrees over much of the family business, which makes him look like the brains of all operations. At times Hagen gets into arguments with Sonny because Sonny is sometimes too proclamation-like in his talks of vendettas.

The Don will have a close call with mortality, with his life on the line again at his hospital stay until Michael brilliantly improvises, and saves him. Michael, a Marines veteran, subsequently volunteers himself to do a double-hit on behalf of the family. This leads him to abandon his love Kay (Diane Keaton), and in the aftermath embark to Sicily where he will be protected and off the radar; it’s there he falls in love with the town beauty Appolonia (Simonetta Stefanelli). Michael is a man of grace, putting up a fine courtship with this woman. But his ideals of love fade over the course of the film; in time, when the transfer of power is made within the Corleone family, he will sharpen up, lower his chin, act on practicalities, contemplate like a war general, and fire first without instigation. Look at Pacino’s eyes later on as they turn sinister, tactical.

Yes, two things go on during the course of The Godfather above all else. We learn to sympathize with a Mafia family. We observe the transformation of Michael from a practical person to black-hearted operator who says he has renounced all sins from Satan but submerges himself in sins; Michael will commit any trespass in order to restore the family’s envious power once again.

The burnished cinematography is by the great Gordon Willis; the swirling score you feel in your tummy is by Nino Rota; the meaty linguistic screenplay is by Mario Puzo (based on his novel) and Francis Ford Coppola; the stalwart direction is by Coppola, whose every gesture or lack of inclusion is indeed sophisticated. A fade in has a man asking for punishment for his daughter’s rapists; we do not see the culmination. The Godfather himself has a wife, as adornment or afterthought, but we do not come to know her. We never see Michael get revenge against Fabrizio, a betrayer who was hired to protect Appolonia at all costs. So yes, there are lack of inclusions here.

There are so many threads in The Godfather that sometimes we have to come up with logical conclusions in our own minds. We come to know every character so thoroughly that we never doubt anything we surmise on our own over the unsaid.

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