Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: March 15, 1972
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gordon Willis
WRITERS: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
MUSIC: Nino Rota
Every time I watch “The Godfather”, I remember why I love this movie in the first place. It goes without saying that director Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece is a true classic. Why am I reviewing this movie today? Simply put, I just want to go ahead and add my voice to the millions that have already expressed their undying love to this movie.
From the opening scene where Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is asked for justice to that final, devastating shot of Kay (Diane Keaton) realizing what her husband has become, the movie’s three hour runtime is up before you know it. Why does this movie work so well? Because everything including the dark cinematography from Gordon Willis, the haunting musical score by Nino Rota, the breakout performances, and the perfect direction by Coppola works perfectly.
From the moment you lay eyes on Brando and he begins to give us his portrayal of the level headed yet violent don, you understand immediately why he walked away with an Oscar. You are completely convinced that this is a man that has a certain code of honor that is only skewed by the violent acts he orders his men to carry out. He knows what he has done, but makes no excuses for them other than to say that it was all done for the sake of the family.
Still, while most people single out Brando’s performance, it is the breakout performance by Al Pacino that always gets me. When we first meet Michael, he has just returned from the war. He also has a beautiful girlfriend named Kay. After Kay asks him about a contract the Don got someone to sign, Michael bluntly tells her that Vito threatened the man’s life, but he is also quick to note that that’s the family business and it is not the life Michael wants.
Unfortunately, there is an attempt on Vito’s life and Michael is physically assaulted by a corrupt cop while trying to protect his father. It is at this moment, when Michael is betrayed by the seemingly legitimate world that he desired to join, that his descent into hell begins. By the end of the movie, Michael Corleone is a cold blooded leader of the family, living a life that even his own father did not want for him.
Of course, there are other fantastic performances as well. James Caan is particularly electrifying as the hot tempered Sonny, the man who was set to take over for the Don, but his hot temper ultimately became the tool of his downfall. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, the even tempered lawyer and consigliere of the Corleone crime family.
Duvall is the legitimate legal face of the family, but is questioned about whether or not he may be the consigliere needed should the family go to war with the Five Families. Duvall’s performance is a little more subdued, but is as equally important to the story as any other character.
I could go on and on about this movie. Beyond the performances, the whole film just looks gorgeous and sets the tone for the entire picture. The music is both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It pulls you in then it warns you of the coming violence.
“The Godfather” turns 45 this year and still doesn’t have a blemish. It is every bit as perfect today as it was back in 1972. If there is anyone out there who has never seen the movie, then they need to make it a priority to finally watch it. If you are like me and have already seen the film dozens of times, then you owe it to yourself to once again go back and revisit his touchstone in cinematic history.