Day 361: The Godfather

#377/ 365 – ‘The Godfather’ (1972) – 175 mins
IMDb Challenge #248 / 250 – Ranked #2 – DVD Collection

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is brutally pursued when he refuses to sully the family business with drugs. His eldest, Sonny (James Caan), steps in to take the helm during his father’s illness, but is riddled with bullets. It is up to Michael (Al Pacino), the war hero and beloved son, to step up redeem the family’s honor.

What can I say about The Godfather? It is one of the most celebrated films in cinema history, a film that I have watched more times than I can remember, along with The Godfather Part II. Both Francis Ford Coppola’s poetic masterpieces based on Mario Puzo’s acclaimed novel have long resided in my Top 15 films of all-time.

The opening wedding sequence is a stunning introduction to the Corleone family. This initial scene is all slow camera movement, using to great effect Gordon Willis’ striking cinematography which employs atmospheric light and dark shadows that nearly fully cover Don Vito Corleone, as he accepts a tribute and petition from Bonasera the Undertaker (Salvatore Corsitto).

Rarely does a film tell as many diverse yet intertwining stories where every major character, and several minor ones are molded into distinguishable and complex individuals. If there is a flaw with The Godfather it’s that are so many characters and details to absorb in the tightly plotted script for a first viewing and needs multiple visits to fully appreciate Coppola’s artistry. Fully complementing everything in the midst of all this majesty is Nino Rota’s beautifully soothing score.

The legendary Marlon Brando is superb and works magic in the role of Vito that revitalized his career, and that would land him a second Best Actor Oscar. Al Pacino gives an amazingly subtle performance as Michael Corleone, the youngest brother of the family. There are also strong performances from James Caan as Santino the demonstrative and volatile brother, and Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, whose character stays in the background as the steady and reliable brother.

Yes the The Godfather is long, but 175 minutes spent in this intricate and violent world is a rich and engrossing experience, and when the closing credits roll you feel you have only been watching for an hour. If there was ever “an offer you couldn’t refuse” it would be to watch this film, as it is one of the finest films not only of our time but of any time.

#378/ 365 – ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974) – 200 mins
IMDb Challenge #249 / 250 – Ranked #3 – DVD Collection

We follow Michael (Al Pacino) through the 1950s, as his would-be legitimate business gets into sleazy deals in Cuba and the US Senate, and he is forced to break the ultimate taboo by having his own brother murdered. Meanwhile, we see his father Vito (Robert De Niro) as a young man, establishing the family via a street gang in turn-of-the-century New York.

You can count on one hand the sequels that have lived up to it’s original, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. But for me only one film can legitimately be said to be better than the film that inspired it, and that is ‘The Godfather, Part II’ and is a companion piece in the truest sense of the word.

Breathtaking in scope, more ambitious in production, this masterful follow-up takes the central theme of part I and delves deeper in the Corleone family history by telling a pair of completely disconnected stories but does so in parallel. In the one story it continues to follow the destiny of Michael Corleone who attempts to expand his mafia empire from Las Vegas to Cuba whilst rooting out traitors in his own family. Meanwhile, in the second parallel story, we follow the 1921 journey of Michael’s father, a young Vito Corleone who immigrates to America from Sicily after his family’s murder and starts to build the families mafia empire. Both stories are utterly compelling and in once sense I wish they had been separate films.

It’s interesting to see at the beginning of Godfather Part II it echoes the opening of part I, and so does the end. But because of the manner in which circumstances are handled, the impact here is more forceful.

Performance wise and winning the Best Actor Oscar almost without any dialogue Robert DeNiro is spectacular as the young Vito Corleone, and Al Pacino continues to showcase a masterclass of acting from seen in Part I. This was first film in which these two acting legends were first teamed, but due to the nature of the split-timeline of the script they never interacted together.

In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola came back to bring the Corleone journey to a close with ‘The Godfather Part III’ and yes whilst this film is poor in comparsion to the first two colossal parts, as a standalone film it’s still a great watch.

Collectively the first two parts won nine Academy Awards (out of 29 nominations) including walking away with the Best Picture twice just goes to show its power. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” are words Michael Corleone lives by, well make sure you keep this collection close to your heart as its nothing short of a miracle.

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