The Godfather

The Godfather. Paramount Pictures 1972.

Before watching the movie:

Everything I know about this movie comes down to atmosphere and a few lines that get parodied frequently. I don’t even remember the plot of The Godson or the tribute episode of Quantum Leap, so I’m not sure if I’ve come across anything more substantial about this movie than Marlon Brando’s mushmouthed Italian and the wedding day favors. It probably concerns a rival family, tensions within the family, or both. I think I can expect Don Corleone to die by the end of this, because he’s clearly not in the sequels.

This movie is probably to organized crime what Wall Street is to disorganized legal crime stock trading, though I think I’ve heard that Italian-American mobsters often don’t like what it’s done to their image.

After watching the movie:

Don Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the Corleone crime family, is asked for legal and political protection in exchange for a percentage of the new narcotics market. He refuses, and shortly thereafter is gunned down in an attempted assassination. As he recovers in the hospital, his youngest son Michael, who wanted nothing to do with the family business, seeks revenge for the attack. He plots a successful assassination on the men responsible, setting him on a path deeper within the business than he ever thought he’d want.

What becomes obvious to anyone watching the movie is that the title is misleading. This is not the story of Vito Corleone. He disappears for half of the movie, and after he returns from the hospital, he only has one really good scene to echo what he was before the attack. Still, Brando’s performance is the most memorable, and the fact that he talks like his jaw is numb is only a small part of that. There’s a rhythm to his speech, mostly in the writing but enhanced by the performance, that sets him apart from everyone else. It serves to show just how wise and shrewd this man who’s been in the business long enough to see everything twice is. Pacino meanwhile has the more difficult but also more subtle task of showing an idealistic young man turning into the man his father was. I think by the end he even talks like Vito, aside from the post-dental-surgery slur.

This film feels like a trilogy all on its own. The first hour or so is the Fall of Vito Corleone, ending in Michael’s successful vengeance. The second hour is Michael Corleone in Exile/The War of the Five Families, and the third hour is The Rise of Michael Corleone. Particularly that first chapter just felt finished. He did it, he got away with it, and Vito’s going to make it. Then I realized I still had another hour and forty-five minutes left.

While I think the plotting might get a bit bogged down here and there, the written dialogue in this film is stellar. There are so many times when characters speak absolutely naturally and still carry an epic weight. Everything that comes out of Vito’s mouth is quotable. Individual scenes as well are works of art on their own, though I think the scenes that stand out the most as being well-written are probably lifted directly from the book.

 

Watch this movie: for the artistry throughout.

Don’t watch this movie: for the action.

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