The Don of All Movies
"The Godfather" is for me, and to be honest many, the greatest movie ever made, it is the movie that if I was told I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life I would chose. The reason is that it is the most complete movie ever made it has action, drama, humour, romance, great characters, great direction, a brilliant story and well basically everything. Whilst for me "The Godfather" is the greatest movie there are some who think its overrated and I can sort of understand why as whilst there is action it is not action in the way modern audiences expect, the humour is subtle and to be honest it does feel slow going and drawn out. But then "The Godfather" is a movie not so much about what is said but what is being said, what the deeper meaning is of a scene, of a sentence and that is when it becomes something much more than just another movie about gangsters.
Having returned from war a hero, Michael (Al Pacino - Ocean's Thirteen) heads home with girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) for the wedding of his sister Connie (Talia Shire) to Carlo (Gianni Russo) and finds himself explaining all about the Family to Kay, how his father Don Corleone (Marlon Brando - The Score) is the head of the powerful Corleone family and that he has no desire to be part of it. But after Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) starts trouble with the Corleone Family when the Don refuses to help in his narcotics business Michael finds himself drawn into the Family business when his father is gunned down. And with his hot headed older brother Sonny (James Caan - El Dorado) taking over the leadership whilst their father is in hospital full out war starts between the various Families causing things to change for the Corleone family forever.
So on face value "The Godfather" is a movie about the Corleone family, a gangster organisation who have rose to power under the leadership of Vito Corleone. And as such we have a storyline about the various troubles which happen, troubles drawn on real life as is so much of the movie. So we have the storyline of Sollozzo with the help of Tattaglia trying to muscle in with their narcotics and in doing so finding that Don Corleone doesn't want to be part of it. This leads to Sollozzo using violence to get his way and for the various families to end up at war when high profile members are killed. All of which leads in turn to Michael Corleone becoming involved in the family business and ending up heading the family.
Now all of which sounds good because this is a storyline which has drama and action, gangland hits and a lot more. But "The Godfather" is a movie with less bada bing, bada boom than say "Goodfellas" because what you actually see is not so much what the movie is about. That may sound daft but what director Francis Ford Coppola has done is craft a movie which allows us to understand how a Family operates, then we watch how Michael gets drawn into the family crime business despite not wanting to be part of it and then under his leadership it becoming very much a business, a cold heartless business. Plus of course Coppola has created an allegory to Capitalism, how businesses grow, how times change, how companies get lazy, bend the rules and establishments get threatened by new blood.
As such it has to be said that the opening 25 minutes of "The Godfather" can easily put a lot of people off as on the surface nothing seems to happen. We are at the wedding of Connie and Carlo, Don Corleone is granting wishes as is customary and we meet the various characters. But in what seems a dull 25 minutes we actually learn a lot, we learn of the importance of friends and family, how loyalty and respect is of huge importance but so is food and fun. We also understand that Don Corleone despite being quite laid back is hard working and we also understand that Don Corleone does not agree with murder, but killing only when called for. As such the following scene after the wedding which sees movie Producer Jack Woltz wake up to a horses head in his bed continues to establish the way of the Family, swift action which doesn't involve killing people but scaring them by targeting something close. It is a masterful series of scenes because it is saying so much without spoon feeding you this information.
This opening series of scenes paves way for the trouble with Sollozzo as he tries to muscle in but whilst on the surface it seems like this is just about trouble between the Families this is really all about Michael. When we meet Michael at the wedding he tells his girlfriend Kay all about the Family and how it is not for him but then we watch him being drawn into the trouble when Sollozzo tries to kill Vito. Again it is very much about reading between the lines and understanding that for Michael it is a huge decision to enter the family Business and that decision comes when he visits his father in hospital and tells him "I'm with you now". It is the turning point for Michael and whilst on the surface it seems like Michael is just telling his father he is there in the hospital it is the moment he commits to the business.
What follows on from Michael committing is the war, Sonny taking charge of the business with his instincts leading to attack the other families whilst their brother Tom takes a more calculated approach. And this also leads to Michael heading to Sicily for safety, but also more trouble as he is a marked man. Now I could go on because to be honest this covers the first half of "The Godfather" and there is a lot more depth in the 2nd half as Michael ends up becoming the head of the family and leading it into a new era, a cold calculated era where he sorts things out in a quick and brutal manner. But it is again as much about what is being said than what is said, the real meaning of actions and words than what they appear on the surface.
But whilst director Francis Ford Coppola has crafted this stunning movie about gangsters he has also used it as an allegory about capitalism. The whole element of Sollozzo trying to muscle in can been seen as new business moving in on established ones, those established ones becoming lazy after years of being top dogs and bringing in fresh blood to bring change. We see how there are casualties as there is when businesses compete and there is also treachery. And again there is much more to this than I am going to mention because you can read a lot more into "The Godfather" is you want to or you can just watch it for entertainment.
Watching "The Godfather" now it is hard not to be impressed by the cast be it Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall or Al Pacino all these stars put in simply perfect performances. They all become their characters to the point that they are no longer actors, and even those in smaller parts be it Lenny Montana as Luca Brasi or Morgana King who plays Mama Corleone are all authentic.
And authentic is one of the best things about "The Godfather" as elements of the story, various characters, certain mannerism and speech patterns are all drawn from the real world. In fact there are various gangsters who actually acted in the movie and it just contributes to what for me is one of just a few perfect movies.
What this all boils down to is that "The Godfather" for me is and probably always will always be the greatest movie ever made. It has everything from storyline to acting, great camera works to action, romance to humour. But it is also a movie which can be watched and appreciated on so many different levels be it just as gangster entertainment or for what is being said between the lines.