OBPC #45: The Godfather, 1972

Rating: 4 stars (out of 4)

The Godfather (1972): Dir. Francis Ford Coppola.  Written by: Coppola and Mario Puzo.  Based upon the novel of the same name by Puzo.  Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Diane Keaton.  Rated R for intense sequences of strong violence, drug content, and brief nudity.  Running time: 175 minutes.

GodfatherOne need have seen The Godfather to gauge its resonance in popular culture—it usually competes with Citizen Kane for the title of greatest film ever made (if such comparisons even deserve merit).  So it’s funny now with the fourth time seeing it, I’ve only grown fonder of the strange saga’s lasting legacy.

Though Brando as Vito Corleone is the poster-boy, the real protagonist is Al Pacino’s Michael, a WWII hero who has returned to visit his mafia-entrenched family.  Repudiating their lifestyle, Michael nonetheless finds himself drawn into the family business as his father’s life is threatened by the advent of organized narcotics—and slowly we watch his descent.

Being familiar with the story and characters already, I found myself drawn to details:  The lighting and shadows in Vito’s office where key decisions are made. The understatements, and the looks on character’s faces as they realize their doom is sealed.  Coppola and Puzo blur the lines between business and family, practicality and vendetta, in a way that is both fascinating and almost unbearably tragic to watch. And for all the claims leveled against it for supposedly “romanticizing” gangster life, it never fails to uncover the true darkness underneath, even in the early wedding scene.

The players are uniformly enthralling—Brando of course, for his sense of menace and disarming warmth.  But it’s the unsung players—Robert Duvall as the family lawyer, who radiates an eerie calmness, and Richard Castellano as Clemenza, the seasoned enforcer with a sense of humor.  At the center of it is Pacino, whose surface coldness does much to suggest the roiling emotions with which he must do battle.

Like Citizen Kane, I credit The Godfather as a great film—though I hesitate to apply the term “greatest.”  Terms like these shouldn’t matter when a film this meticulous and rich graces the silver screen.

Next film: The Sting, 1973

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