The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

”That, I cannot do.”

The most iconic characters. The most iconic score. The most iconic scenes. The most iconic lines.

”Someday, and that day may never come, I may ask you to do a service for me.”

Yeah I'm bout to fill the review with quotes. I just love this goddamn movie so much, it had to be my final watch for 2018.

”I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.”

There's a reason this is the best reviewed film on letterboxd, my friends, top of the “official” 250. If by some incredible and insufficient reason you haven't seen The Godfather (or its perfect sequel), make that your first resolution of 2019.

”Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

In fact, if I follow you and you haven't watched The Godfather by the end of the year… well then you will have some explaining to do as my cat Blackjack will be very disappointed.

”If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead already.”

Really, he's on my lap right now enjoying the film as I am. Maybe he's sleeping, I dunno. But that's because he has the whole movie memorized anyway.

”They hit him with five shots and he's still alive!”

Just look at that face in the pic up there. He loves this movie. You don't want to make him sad, do you?

”It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Coppola’s masterpiece -- dear lord, only a few filmmakers in history can rival the decade he had in the 1970s -- toes the impossible line of an immensely complicated crime tale and a tense family drama, weaving together politics, history, and Sicilian culture. And yet, he (with Mario Puzo’s exquisite story) makes a brilliant nuanced film that's accessible to the general audience. Absolutely amazing.

”Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

And after about an hour of building a story, building up Don Corleone (Marlon Brando as arguably the most iconic character in film history) as an invincible crime boss, the movie completely changes focus, and it's the son Michael (Al Pacino, young but already incomparable) who becomes the man he may never have known he could be, slowly and with precise moments.

”I am Enzo, the baker.”

That first true inflection point is in one of the two best scenes in the film: outside the hospital. Here the transformation truly begins. I've watched this scene so many times. It's perfect, beyond perfect. Watch how Pacino is filmed, and how his mannerisms subtly change in this very moment. He knows this is it, literally a life or death situation. And he's got Enzo the goddamn baker as his wingman.

”Put your hand in your coat, make it look like you have a gun.”

Watch his hands with the cigarette lighter. Steady as a rock. Shit. Michael, you had it all along, whether you knew it or not.

”It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.”

But shouldn't Sonny have taken the lead? James Caan portrays the first-born son as a hothead, impulsive, eager to supplant his father perhaps. Mikey is a war hero, college student, and already admired more than Sonny ever was. All these family jealousies and politics play out on screen with impeccable nuance.

”What I want, what's most important to me, is that I have a guarantee.”

Again, like almost all the great films, Coppola knows how to show, and not tell. And it leads to the film's best scene, still only 90 minutes through, and one of my favorite scenes of all time: the restaurant. The tension is palpable, even when the audience knows the angle and the plan. The way Michael sits, and stares, surely in thought but also supremely confident… and then it's time. Wipe your brow, straighten your hair. Go.

”I'm going to learn the, uh, casino business.”

Wait, what about Fredo? Again, the film doesn't tell you straight up “oh Fredo, something’s fuckin wrong with him, they just need to get him out of the fire because he can't handle the heat.” But going to Vegas? Oh man I'm already getting excited for Part II.

”In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.”

Should we talk about the gorgeous cinematography? My goodness, countryside Sicily is a beautiful place. And we come upon the picturesque town of Corleone itself. How ambitious this movie is, to pull off a drastic change of scene and pace like this. The gentle mise-en-scene of an Italian wedding, a small town in celebration, a consummation. But on the other side of the world?

”This war stops now.”

The tollbooth. You knew Sonny's impulsiveness would be his undoing. He never saw it coming. Should he have?

”I don't want his mother to see him this way.”

And while Michael lives in idyllic secrecy…

”No, Apollonia, no!”

A shame. She was smoking hot. But in seriousness, it's yet another moment, an indelible one for Michael, where his trust in anyone outside his family is irreversibly severed. Never again. Her death is something I came to appreciate as one of the most important events in his life, but only after seeing the film a second or third time. Watch after that scene, how his mannerisms change again.

”I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father.”

And more than two hours into the film, finally Kay (Diane Keaton) -- Michael's girlfriend but kept in the dark about his fleeing the country -- begins to learn about what's been held from her about the Corleone family. Michael calls her “naive,” after finally talking with her after returning. She's been tortured through his absence, but she loved him anyway. They marry.

”You're not a wartime consigliere, Tom.”

I haven't even mentioned Robert Duvall, who plays the lawyer and advisor to the Corleones. His life changes too, and Coppola expertly found an actor who could play a complicated part that's not easy to define.

”But don't ever take sides with anyone against the family ever again. Ever.”

Fredo, you fuck-up. Couldn't you just have shut up and had a good time in Vegas without doing anything stupid?

”He's a traitor. Don't forget that.”

Back to New York, and the crime families. The film moves quickly at times, but not in a way that seems like a pacing misstep. It's okay that we don't see the births of children or other family events; we know they happen, but there are important conversations that are necessary to witness instead, including the final one with father and son.

”...all the heads of the five families.”

How lovely that Vito’s last moments are playing gently with his grandson. After all the atrocities he's been a part of… he just never should have eaten that orange I guess.

”In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

An incredible climax, brutal and exacting, in the visage of a Catholic sacrament of baptism, and the Corleone family -- while on one hand going “legit” and on the other orchestrating a violent bloodbath -- is now unrivaled.

”Do you renounce Satan, and all of his works?”

In the film's denouement after the climax, what possibly could come? Nothing more than Michael himself, as the new Don, the new Godfather, cool and calm but intimidating beyond belief.

”Carlo, you're out of the family business.”

Trumpet comes softly in again, the iconic score. Carlo, Connie’s husband, had to go. We hardly knew ye.

”Don't ask me about my business, Kate.”

And yet… she does ask. He angers. She persists. He relents. And then… he lies. Does she know? As the door closes, and the room darkens, and his hand is held and kissed by the same men who worshipped his father, she looks on...

”Don Corleone.”

Fade to black. The Godfather, the greatest of all time.

Happy New Year. Have a bottle of red, on me.

And don't forget to take the cannoli.

Added to Francis Ford Coppola ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Films from Every Year I've Seen Them.

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