Top 100 Movie Review: #3 – The Godfather (1972)

The Offer We Just Can’t Refuse

A front row seat to the underbelly of Mafia crime, the movie about the Corleone family has plenty of malevolent retribution to enjoy.

Marlon Brando who won Best Actor as Vito Corleone.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100
Awards: Nominated for eleven awards with one being revoked and winning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This is one of the heavy hitters of film, obvious by how high it is ranked (#3!) but also by its universal acclaim. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% on the bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong. I find this movie very good and enjoyable, but I’m not quite sure I would put it in my top five movies of all time.

There is something intoxicating about seeing the inner workings of the mafia, and Francis Ford Coppola’s movie does a wonderful job of characterization — there are rememberable people, interactions, and changes amongst the cast over the course of the movie. The fact that no one is safe from the violence adds an additional level of intrigue, never knowing who might be the next one to “sleep with the fishes.”

[Spoilers] The main momentum for the movie is Al Pacino’s character Micheal Corleone. He is the one son that is removed from the business of the family, having been a marine during WWII and maintained a distance from the illicit activities. He superficially has the characteristics of the “hero” in traditional films (a veteran with morals and a steady gf), but the pull of his family starts to consume him, too. As Vito Corleone, the head of the family and father to Micheal, pushes back about entering the drug market in New York City, the family starts to unravel as other mafia families start committing transgressions against the Corleone family.

This leads to an attempt on Vito’s life, the last straw for Michael. Wanting to get more involved, Micheal helps set up those responsible for wounding his father. He kills them in cold blood, using a planted handgun in the restroom surprising his unaware victims.

With all the families in an all out war due to Micheal’s actions, he flees the country to Sicily. Here he takes interest in a local girl and you can see that the change now is irreversible; his commitment to his girlfriend is forgotten and he leverages his position within a mafia family to get what he wants. The violence continues, here and in America, as a bomb meant for Micheal ends up killing his new love interest and family back home get machined gun down.

After Vito ceases the violence by making concessions about the drug market in New York, Micheal returns and the transformation is almost complete — all that is left is for him to become is the Godfather himself. The rest of the movie is dedicated to that crescendo as Vito begins to coach Micheal into the position. Micheal, once the bright light in the family, is fully transformed into a mafia baron.

Al Pacino as Micheal Corleone.

The most memorable parts of the movie for me are those that involve Vito and Micheal. Marlon Brando does a wonderful job as the OG Godfather, and Al Pacino plays his transformation just right: timid and unsure in the beginning to bone-crushingly calculated by the end. Beyond this, I didn’t really get caught up in the other characters. Sonny Corleone, played by James Caan, and Tom Hagan, played by Robert Duvall, were interesting for the parts that the played, but they weren’t as crucial to the story for me.

The violence that arcs over the entire film compliments the dark mood and cinematography. It was fun to see the scheming and knowing not to get too attached to anyone in particular since the violence was real and could strike any of them. Our supposed hero turned anti-hero completes his transformation within this bleak environment, but oddly enough we almost empathize with the Corleone family in their heartbreak and cheer them on in their success making me wonder: what kind of hero does that make us?

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