(United States, 1972)
When it comes to Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo's three-film collaboration for "The Godfather" saga, there are two camps: those who believe the first film is superior and those who favor the second film. (I suppose, at least in theory, there is a third group – those who rank The Godfather III at the top. But since I have never met anyone in that category, nor do I ever expect to, I'll leave that out.) I belong to the former, arguing that The Godfather is better written, more tightly scripted, and offers more emotional resonance than its sequel. Both are great films, to be sure, and the experience isn't complete without watching the pair, but, taken as independent pieces of cinema, I prefer the first. In some sense, The Godfather can be viewed as the ultimate "guy" movie, so it is perhaps surprising how many women count this among their cinematic favorites. The reason has to do with craftsmanship. From top to bottom, The Godfather ranks as one of the United States' most accomplished motion pictures. It's not just guns, mobsters, and quotable lines. It's an American tragedy. Had Shakespeare been alive today, this is the kind of story he would have written. Some might state that this an "obvious" choice for anyone's Top 10, and I would agree with them. The appearance of this film on so many "best of" lists is evidence not only of the quality of the production but of its widespread appeal. Although the purpose of this list isn't to quantify the greatest films, I have no compunction about saying that not only is The Godfather one of my favorites, but it is among the best motion pictures ever made.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film opens in the study of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the Godfather, who is holding court. It is the wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire), and no Sicilian can refuse a request on that day. So the supplicants come, each wanting something different - revenge, a husband for their daughter, a part in a movie. The family has gathered for the event. Michael (Al Pacino), Don Vito's youngest son and a second world war hero, is back home in the company of a new girlfriend (Diane Keaton). The two older boys, Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), are there as well, along with their "adopted" brother, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the don's right-hand man. With the end of the war, the times are changing, and as much as Don Vito seems in control at the wedding, his power is beginning to erode. By the standards of some, his views on the importance of family, loyalty, and respect are antiquated. Even his heir apparent, Sonny, disagrees with his refusal to get into the drug business. Gambling and alcohol are forces of the past and present; narcotics are the future. But Don Vito will not compromise, even when a powerful drug supplier named Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) arrives with promises of high profits for those who back him. Don Vito's refusal to do business with Sollozzo strikes the first sparks of a war that will last for years and cost many lives. Each of the five major mob families in New York will be gouged by the bloodshed, and a new order will emerge. Betrayals will take place, and the Corleone family will be shaken to its roots by treachery from both within and without.
If The Godfather was only about gun-toting Mafia types, it would never have garnered as many accolades. The characteristic that sets this film apart from so many of its predecessors and successors is its ability to weave the often-disparate layers of story into a cohesive whole. Any of the individual issues explored by The Godfather are strong enough to form the foundation of a movie. Here, however, bolstered by so many complimentary themes, each is given added resonance. The picture is a series of mini-climaxes, all building to the devastating, definitive conclusion. We come to The Godfather as outsiders uncertain in our expectations - but it doesn't take long for us to be captivated by this intricate, violent world. The film can be viewed on many levels, with equal satisfaction awaiting those who just want a good story, and those who demand much more.
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