Of Blood and Loyalty
For a powerful family such as the Corleones, everyone outside their small circle is a threat. Americans and Sicilians alike are potential enemies, giving an isolated, paranoia-inducing feel that heightens both the tragedies and triumphs of the story. Coppola captures the spirit of the era through rich visuals and an authentic casting. The appeal is timeless. Regardless which race you are or what year it is, you will be able to identify with the Corleones. Behind the nitty-gritty of the family business, there are relatable moments such as marriages to eating takeout at the kitchen. No scene is useless and no opportunity is wasted in establishing the characters.
Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) may not be the central figure in the story but, as the title suggests, nothing goes on without The Godfather's involvement. The movie shows his son, Michael, stepping up to his role as the new patriarch with Don Corleone being the wise, enduring pillar that supports him. Brando truly looks and acts the part. His iconic performance marked with careless movements and a whispery rasp has been the standard on-screen Mafioso can only hope to live up to. It's the depiction of a man so powerful that his very presence inspires fear and in turn, respect.
The Glorious Past
Another element which makes The Godfather so compelling is its ability to transport you to the exact period of the story. Sparing no expense, the visuals depict the 1940s in impressive detail. From the grand limousines to the smoke-filled rooms and fedoras, each scene is oozing with the glorious feel of the past. Cinematographer Gordon Willis also lends his talents to the masterpiece, experimenting with color treatments. Early scenes even have that classic sepia-tint to them, calling forth an instinctive association to that time period.
The events themselves are a picture of the era. The Corleones are not just under threat of assassinations and ambushes but are also contending with the difficulties that come uniquely with their sort of bourgeois life. Sometimes, money and power can buy everything but a quiet life and being a part of an elite group where everybody knows everybody else is stifling. Still, we watch with gusto, hanging on to each quotable line.
The movie runs just five minutes shy of three hours, yet you will never feel the need to hurry the plot along. Every minute brings Don Vito Corleone's transfer of power closer to fruition and it feels fitting that the scenes take the time that they do. Even with the generous run time, the film lacks some meaty content found in Mario Puzo's prized novel. Those who have not read that prior to watching the film will likely find a few relationships and characters to be quite the enigma. It's not so much filling in the blanks that make it tricky but the curiosity that comes with knowing there's more to them than meets the eye.
That being said, the film is worth watching even solely for the masterful delivery and the acting chops. Among the cast are stars such as Richard Conte, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, Gianni Russo, James Caan, Al Lettieri, Abe Vigoda and Diane Keaton. From the authentic cast to the magnificent backdrops, it is plain to see Coppola's attention to detail. The Godfather is a bittersweet look into the life of the Corleones, with Al Pacino's Michael and Marlon Brando's Don Vito being the very lifeblood of the story. It's the struggle to keep a sense of normalcy despite their dark, gun-toting lifestyle that will draw you in. This is a world were marriages and having children have a place alongside execution by garrote. With the Don and the Corleones, it's nothing personal, really -- it's strictly business. The stark contrast to suburban life is what will keep you coming back to watch the film again and again.