The Godfather Review

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 23, 2017

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Submitted: July 23, 2017



















The Godfather is a 1972 crime drama based on the novel of the same name that details the conflicts concerning the empire of Italian-American crime family The Corleones, led by Don Vito as well as his descendants, and the blurring of the line between business and emotion as it seals their fates, as well as those of their associates and loved ones.

 It must have been an interesting development to witness the progression that came forth through adapting the novel into a film. If one finds the two hour and fifty nine minute runtime long, then the novel is much longer. So long, that one can consider The Godfather Part II an adaptation just as the original, for it encompasses chapters from the novel that were thrown out from the first one. If one saw both films, they would realize that in the same piece of papers, a novel can switch perspectives seamlessly, especially if it is a good piece of work. A film, on the other hand, has a much more limited and critical audience.

 Yet, there is something about the execution of this film that manages to overcome these difficulties. The Hollywood segment with John Fontane and Woltz or Michael’s exile and first tragic marriage seem almost unimportant at first, but then later on, Michael as Don comes to a successful Fontane and offers him a deal to repay what they did for him, or how Michael’s relationship with Kay has changed. It is a film fragmented like a puzzle, leaving clues everywhere, but still ensuring us that it is there. Not to mention, the execution of said scenes, in terms of editing and performance, is brilliant, rendering what could have been clumsy and disjointed in the hands of a less experienced filmmaker into an expression of character growth through visual storytelling.

 The criminals are protagonists just as they are antagonists. What starts off as what would be labeled black and grey morality eventually has grey take over, especially when, ironically enough, Michael takes over. Barzini seems like the only legitimate villain, while the other members are not given much focus as much as Moe Green or Tattaglia, but my impression was that they were more concerned for their business. There is an element of glamorization in their lifestyle, but also a showcase of their phoniness. Of course, they are all hypocrites; they look rich but complain about the lack of money in their investments; they call themselves men of honor just as they term the killing of others business; they are outsiders to the system, and yet they insult black people and claim that women, not men, can make mistakes, just as Americans call them guineas. At the same time, they are endearingly human. In fact, they spend most of the running time sitting down, eating and joking instead of killing someone, and that sense of mixture where the good and bad in them is highlighted without judgment is quite possibly the film’s main strength.

 Three scenes highlight this relationship for me. The first is the one with the horse in Woltz’s bed. The fact that it was an actual head, not a prop, makes the scene even more horrific, and yet it was all done in the spirit of friendship and family from Vito for Johnny to survive and elevate his status to new heights.

 The second is when a pregnant Connie, the daughter of The Godfather, prepares dinner for her husband, Carlo, and discovers by accident his affair with another girl. He mocks and pushes her over the edge like he did in a few scenes before, until he pulls out a belt and starts whipping her when she defies him and starts smashing the furniture of the house. Only with three cuts, and most of it done in a long take, it’s one of the hardest scenes to watch, because we wish for Connie to stab him or get out of there, even if she is the daughter of a mob boss. There is even more impact once you remember the film started off with their idyllic wedding day.

 The third scene is when Michael goes to shoot Solozzo and McClusky. He is anxious and worried because he knows that with one wrong move, he will be done for. To make matters worse, there is a conflict where he knows that it is his mission to kill them, but he also wants to do it as an act of vengeance for almost killing his father. It’s a gripping and tense moment, climaxing with the camera edging towards a slow close-up, with the sound of a train dominating the soundtrack, and after he shoots them, the music is more bittersweet than triumphant.

 The film questions if one sees the line between business and emotion. The closest we get to an answer is that some do (Vito and Tom Hagen) while others don’t (Sonny Coreleone and Michael), and those clouds of judgment are what decides their fates in this trial.

 I’m going to focus on the outcomes of Vito and Michael. Vito starts off as the Godfather, but gradually retires and becomes the grandfather of his nephew. In his last scenes, he drinks too much wine, his hair is messy, his memory is slowly waning, and he has yellow teeth. Michael, on the other hand, starts off as the one family member who wants nothing to do with the business, a war hero who wishes to settle down and have a decent living. By the end of the film, he is jaded and ruthless, even killing his sister’s husband when the more violent Sonny restrained himself from doing it, and the other mob families when Vito wanted a truce. He defends his acts when he orders a man hunt assasination, and sees his marriage to Kay more as an attempt to secure that he has an heir, a stark contrast to their genuine affection for one another in the beginning. Even on physical terms, he goes from a young man in his twenties with a boyish face into more like a man in his mid-40s.

 The Godfather is the best New Hollywood film, because it incorporates all the elements that made that period of filmmaking stand out. There is a hybrid creation between the backings of a Hollywood budget, but with the spiritual execution that approaches European sensibilities. The films are, with all respect to the old masters, less conformed and more independent, a sense that the artists were now running the asylum. There was an edge of honest anger towards the world, especially to post-America, as well as a highlight on the sins of the past that unfortunately still dwell in the present, such as social and political corruption, sexism and racism. The look in such underbelly made the content of sexuality and violence increase, but there was also an elegance and dignity that knew that every drop of blood had to mean something. The characters were still human, but less bright, and more morally ambiguous; as Peter Bogdanovich once mentioned, if Robert de Niro or Gene Hackman thrived in the classic era, they would have been typecast as the heavies or villains, as opposed to securing themselves roles such as Travis Bickle and Popeye, who are complicated and morally dreary and vague characters. The shooting did use studio backlots, as they still do now, but managed to allow the prospect of using actual location, influenced by the likes of the French New Wave, and some of the works of John Huston, Howard Hawks, and at times Hitchcock, for no matter how much a studio tried, Woody Allen’s Manhattan would have never been a beautifully realized if he wasn’t allowed to actually go to Manhattan, or how uncomfortable actual Italians or Italian-Americans would have felt if Robert Redford was Michael (the studios feared to hear bad news regarding Brando, and pushed Coppola to cast a more modern A-list, but he resisted). These students learned from the masters, whether it was Kurosawa or Bergman, and became the masters for the modern day filmmakers, from Spielberg to Kubrick.

 The Godfather is not only the representation of such era, but is a generally great film. Visually beautiful, emotionally shattering, and an all-around wonderfully constructed film, it deserves every praise it gets.

 On a side note, however, I do have one gripe; in the restaurant scene with Michael, Michael, and McClusky, a man passes by with a pipe in his mouth. The next shot, however, the pipe is gone. Just a small act of continuity error, that’s all, but I wanted to point it out to others.

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