It’s ‘re-release city’ in the UK at the moment – Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal The Godfather (1972), an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel, has also returned to big screens in recent weeks.
There are some films that bypass critical carping and can lay claim to being perhaps the greatest ever made. The Godfather (1972) is one such work, and it is my privilege to talk briefly to you about it.
It is said that the only thing that the Devil loves more than innocence is ambition, and this is the foundation for Puzo and Coppola’s masterly, Oscar-winning examination of New York Mafia ‘family’ life – Marlon Brando plays ‘Don’ Vito Corleone, the titular ‘Godfather’ of the family, who is overseeing the wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire) in 1945. His beloved son Michael, played by Al Pacino, has just come home from the war, but has already stated his intention not to become part of his father’s business, despite Vito’s enthusiasm. The business, after all, is very much a two-edged sword – it protects and is benevolent to those who give respect, but ruthlessly violent against anyone who stands against it.
Don Vito lives his life in the way of the old country, but times are changing and some are no longer concerned about community or family values – a rival of Corleone’s wants to start selling drugs in New York, and needs the Don’s influence to further his plan. The Don’s eldest son, hot-headed Sonny, played by James Caan, is urging the family to move into narcotics – the clash of Vito’s fading old world-values and the new order will demand a terrible price, especially from Michael…
Scene after scene simply demands steadfast attention – the casting of Brando was simply peerless, and his onscreen presence is nothing short of electrifying.
Caan, too, as the angry scion whose impetuousness threatens the family’s existence, is masterful, but it is Pacino’s turn that takes top plaudits. He doesn’t sugar-coat the pill or make the audience like him, but rather plays the character, whose capacity for evil grows in tandem with the power at his disposal, in a way that is believable, chilling and at the same time heart-rending.
In brief, The Godfather is the kind of movie that makes you wish for a memory lapse so you can watch it all again for the first time – I envy those who now have that opportunity.
175 mins. In English and Italian.