Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Based on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale
Returning from war, Michael Corleone (Pacino) has a bright future in front of him. As the aging patriarch of the family, Vito Corleone (Brando) hopes it’s a future built outside of the family business. The aging mafia Don has hopes that he can bring his family business a more legitimate direction moving into the future. When an attempt is made on the Don’s life, Michael is suddenly thrust into the underworld of the mafia. Despite his father’s objections, Michael may have to play a role in the family business.
The novel The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo (Superman) in 1969, eventually becoming a best-seller in the United States. Before the book was even published, the manuscript fell into the hands of Paramount executives who signed a deal with Puzo for the rights. It was only after close to a dozen directors turned down the film, that Francis Ford Coppola (The Rainmaker) took on the project. The relationship between Coppola and the studio was a rocky one. Throughout the production, the movie was threatened by budgetary issues and creative differences. Thankfully, the film was completed and released in 1972. The finished product was an immediate hit, earning top dollar at the box office and 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. The cast of the film includes some of the great names in American cinema, starting with Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon). the cast also features James Caan (El Dorado), Robert Duvall (Open Range), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Talia Shire (Rocky), and John Cazale (The Conversation).
It’s almost unnecessary to comment on the quality of the writing in this film. Coppola took the time and effort necessary to translate the novel into a screenplay without losing the essence of the story. Working alongside Puzo ensured that this process was faithful to the novel in many ways. There are some additions and some subtraction, but nothing that affects the overall feel of the film. The dialogue is wonderful, and created a number of phrases now used in popular culture frequently. The depth of the emotion sets this apart from most mafia movies prior to this one. The cast of doing business is clearly depicted and leaves a lasting impression thanks to the powerful story. The story was also recognized with an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. This might be one of the best written screenplays of the last 50 years.
The acting in this film is superb thanks to a collection of stars that includes four Oscar winners, two more nominees, and a number of other highly skilled actors. Marlon Brando might be remembered for a number of films, but this movie made him an icon. His performance is perfect, bringing out the human inside of the criminal boss. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this one. Three of his co-stars were also recognized for their roles in this movie. Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan were all nominated for Oscars for their work. Each of them gave their roles a unique personality. The brotherly bond built into the story is there, but each man also brought out the flaws in their characters. Adding in the performance of Diane Keaton and Talia Shire makes this a powerhouse cast of talented actors. The chemistry allows the Corleone family to come to life in the midst of a chaotic story. The rest of the cast features dozens of other great actors in wonderful performances as well.
The darkness of the story is mirrored in the visuals. Cinematographer Gordon Willis (Manhattan) made the post-World War II era of America come to life in this one. The addition of Oscar-nominated costumes by Anna Hill Johnstone (Serpico) also play a part in the genuine feel of the movie. It’s also important to note that this movie was almost filmed on studio lots instead of on location. Prior to the start of filming the studio relented, allowing Coppola extra funds to film on location. Today, this has elevated the movie thanks to the authenticity it adds to each scene. The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Editing and Best Sound, two aspects that add beauty to this wonderful movie.
One final note on this movie’s success is the beauty of the score. Nino Rota (Amarcord) earned an Oscar nomination for his original score for this movie. The music is haunting and memorable, seemingly fitting into the story like an unseen character. The familiar music is known to many today due to the popularity of the film. The sound often feels like an attempt to recreate the music of old Italy, but it doesn’t seem like something aged. Instead, the music just flows throughout the movie in wonderful ways, accentuating the highs and lows of the story.
If you haven’t seen The Godfather you’ve missed out on an American film masterpiece. Despite the struggle to finance the production of this movie, it works like a big budget film. The movie earned three Oscar wins, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Writing, and was nominated for eight more. Today, the film is consistently on the top of critic’s “best movie” lists and it was also added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. I would suggest this to anyone and everyone. This is the movie from which all great future mafia films have been born. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.