The Godfather ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
In any list of the best American movies of all time, The Godfather is always near the top, along with Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz. It was a huge critical and financial success at the time of its release and still resonates with audiences forty-two years later. It’s a multi-generational story about the American dream that touches on the themes of loyalty, honor and family; an epic gangster film on a lavish scale with a running time of almost three hours.
The Godfather covers the period from 1945 to about 1955. Marlon Brando plays Vito Corleone, the humble Italian immigrant who becomes one of the most feared and respected crime bosses in America—the Don, the Godfather. People kiss his hand as if he is a pope or a king. They come to him for “justice,” for favors that only he can grant. He doesn’t do their bidding, however, without expecting something in return—loyalty and friendship, if nothing more.
When we first meet Don Vito Corleone, he is old, nearing the end of his productive years. He has three sons: the hothead stud Sonny, the fool Fredo, and straight-arrow Michael, who has a Barbie doll-like girlfriend and an illustrious war record. One of the sons will one day take over the family business. He also has a daughter, Connie. When the story begins, the family is celebrating her marriage. Her choice of a husband, however, proves, in time, to not be a happy one.
When Don Corleone is shot five times by his rivals early in the movie while buying fruit, his son Michael (played by Al Pacino) steps in and takes charge of things, even though he seems constitutionally unfit to lead a criminal empire. He is sensitive and seems physically slight in comparison to his brother Sonny. He wants to marry his girlfriend and have a quiet, peaceful (crime-free) life, but he is being pulled in the opposite direction. When he shoots and kills two of his father’s rivals, he hides out in Sicily for an extended period, where he falls in love with, and marries, a young Italian girl. When she is murdered by a car bomb that is meant for him, he eventually returns to the United States, a hardened man, determined to take his place as head of the Corleone family. He becomes the new Don as his father (who recovered from his gunshot wounds but was never the same again) recedes into the background and eventually dies of a heart attack.
Of course, there’s much more to the story that we see in The Godfather. Two years later, in 1974, there was The Godfather Part II, which explores the early life of Vito Corleone, and The Godfather Part III in 1990. It’s a story that goes on and on.
The Godfather has been digitized and restored and looks flawless in its current iteration on the Cinemax network. If you haven’t seen it in a long time, as I hadn’t, it’s worth seeing again, if for no other reason that to see how much Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and others, have changed in forty-two years. Abe Vigoda, at the current age of 93, still looks about the same. Some people never change.
Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp