BP’s Top 100 Challenge #2: The Godfather, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
This is a bit of a weird article to write because I have already written about the sequel and I feel like I am in danger of repeating myself. Much like its sequel I was not a big fan of The Godfather. I am just not a fan of mobster movies. Someone recently described The Godfather to me as more of an art film than a mobster movie, and I think there is something to that theory, but it was just not a movie made for me.
I’d like to start with the things that I liked. The music in the film is wonderful. Nino Rota’s music perfectly fits the film and gave us a memorable theme. I will leave it those much more qualified than myself to discuss the specifics but I love how Italian it is and also how cinematic the score is. It was also a beautifully made film. Director Francis Ford Coppola and his cinematographer Gordon Willis capture the look of the time.
The performances in the film are very strong but I was particularly impressed by a young Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. His transition from the start to the end of the film is gradual but clear. His interactions with his father were my favorite especially when Vito gets older. Michael treats him with kid gloves but also values his wisdom. James Caan plays the hot-headed Sonny wonderfully and is a nice foil to the measured performance by Robert Duvall as Tom. Marlon Brando plays the titular character. His performance is bold and specific and now much parodied. He is a very believable gangster. I would not want to mess with him, but he also has a quiet way about him, which is somehow more terrifying. I like that we get to see the family man as well. He is clearly devoted to Michael but one of my favorite moments in the film is right before he dies and he is playing with his grandson in the yard. When he put the orange peel over his teeth and the little boy cries there is a sweet moment when Vito comforts the child. It was lovely and I’m glad it was in the film to humanize him right before he dies.
While the film is certainly a masterpiece and very well made, it’s not a story I’m interested in. I don’t care about mobsters, their deeds, or their politics. All the plot about which family is trying to “whack” which family made my eyes glaze over. I also found much of the violence in the film almost comical. The blood is a weird orangey red and almost cartoonish in volume. For example, when Sonny is killed, I think they shot him with four hundred bullets, I get that they were trying to send a message to Vito but it was absurd. The big murder spree that is cross-cut with the christening is a very powerful scene but the blood and violence is so over the top it took away from the elegance of that scene for me.
As with the sequel, I’m much more interested in the non-mobster plot lines. I wanted to know more about Michael and Kay and their marriage. I wanted to understand why the sister stayed with her abusive husband and why she was so sad when he was dead. Those were not the stories that Coppola was interested in telling, but there were the part of the story I connected to more than the mobster stuff.
I have heard from many people that they prefer The Godfather: Part II over The Godfather and I can understand that preference. I didn’t care for either, so I am indifferent. But I do think they work better together. It is good to have the back story about Vito to understand better who he is as a mob boss and a father. It is also interesting to see where the family goes after the death of its leader and a legend.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Godfather ranking: Cruiser