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Film Review: The Godfather Trilogy


One of the first films I ever remember watching was The Godfather-I was about five years old, home sick from school, and me and my Dad spent the whole day watching the entire Godfather trilogy. It’s these early memories of watching classic American films that I think was responsible for my love and passion for cinema. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this review, on Father’s Day, to my Dad.

The trilogy shows the rise and fall of Michael Corleone who is the head of a major New York crime dynasty, adapted from Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel. The gangster has been a staple of American cinema from its conception (the first all-talking picture was in fact a gangster film, Lights of New York in 1928). However, the central characters of these films were always petty thugs and sociopaths who rise through the ranks and whose crime organisation was more like a street gang and the central protagonist always met a violent end.

The Godfather painted a different picture of the American gangster, that of a family man, a business man, logical and calculating rather than the violent hot head, and where crime is a family business rather than individual- after all in The Godfather, as Michael Corleone says, “it’s not personal it’s strictly business”.     

The Godfather: Part 1 (1972) 5 Stars

 “I am going to make him an offer that he can’t refuse”- Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone aka Godfather

These are the famous words spoken by Marlon Brando (in what I think was his last great role) at his daughter’s wedding early in the first film and is one of many iconic and quotable lines in the saga. It’s the line that, for me, really sets the tone of Coppola’s epic crime saga.

Vito Corleone is the ageing patriarch and head of the major New York crime family. The Godfather depicts Vito’s last few months as Don of the family as he becomes too old to continue.       

Part 1 starts off at a big wedding party; there is Italian music, dancing, and lots of drink and food. Michael Corleone, the youngest son of Vito, has come home for his sister Connie’s wedding with his new non-Italian girlfriend Kay (a fresh faced Diane Keaton) in tow. As they sit watching the chaos of the wedding Michael starts to tell Kay about his family and “the family business”. While the partying rages on outside, the camera pans in on a darkly lit room where Vito Corleone sits surrounded by shadowy figures while a very nervous elderly man sits in front of him asking for a favour, that he takes revenge on the men who attacked the man’s daughter. Vito says he will do this but that one day he too will ask for a favour. This scene introduces us to the character of Vito Corleone aka the Godfather.

As the events of the film unfold we are slowly introduced to the other members of “the family” and their places within this crime dynasty. Michael is not involved in the family business as his father wanted him to go to college and be a good man, he is also a WWII in the marines. Vito’s other children are the eldest Sonny (James Cann) who is a bit of a hot head and for me is a representation of the gangster of old Hollywood and even follows a similar path, Alfredo ‘Fredo’ (John Cazale) who is shy, emotional, sensitive and a bit weak, and Connie (Talia Shire from Rocky). There is also an adopted brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) who is of German-Irish decent and is a trusted and valued member of the family.   

It is widely accepted that The Godfather Part 2 is one of the rare instances in which the sequel surpasses the first. However, the first Godfather is my favourite as Marlon Brando gives such a brilliant performance and with unexpected softness in his character.

The Godfather: Part 2 (1974) 5 Stars

“Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family”- Michael Corleone

The second, and longest of the three films, shows the origins of the Sicilian Corleone family to a major crime dynasty.

A young Robert De Niro takes over the role of Vito from Brando and gives depth to a character we only saw briefly in part one. We see Vito as a young Sicilian boy who sees his parents murdered by a mafia Don to a hero of the community in New York, married and having his children and then to his eventual rise as the ‘Godfather’. While simultaneously we see Michael who took over from his father in the first movie has become a shadow of his former self no longer resembling the young naïve man we meet in the first film. As the film progresses we see the moral decay of his character as he becomes increasingly cold and calculating and as a result his family starts to fracture around him, ending in him doing an unthinkable act.   

The Godfather: Part 3 (1990) 3 Stars 

“Just when I think I’m out they pull me back in”- Michael Corleone

Part 3, which could be called ‘the fall of Michael Corleone’, sees Al Pacino don the role of Michael Corleone for the last time. In Coppola’s final instalment Michael has become estranged from his ex-wife Kay and his son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) who is gaining fame as an opera singer and wants nothing to do with the family business, while his daughter Mary (played by Coppola’s daughter Sofia) seems to dote on her father and eventually, to Michaels extreme displeasure, falls for her cousin and heir to the Corleone crime empire Vincent Corleone (played by Andy García) who is Sonny’s illegitimate son and has now become Michaels protégé to take over from him. The saga concludes on an anticlimactic, yet tragic note.

Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy is a masterpiece of American cinema. The characters, the slow pace and dialogue, and that iconic Italian operatic music that creates such a powerful atmosphere, keep you entranced for all nine hours (if you watch the films back to back that is). So if you are looking for something to watch on Father’s Day what could be more perfect than The Godfather.    

Written by Sophie Watts

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