#88 & #89 The Godfather Parts 1 & 2
(1972/1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”
So, here we go. Another movie that’s constantly tagged with the “best movie of all time” comment. Which means expectations are high, so come on, Godfather, make me an offer I can’t refuse!
The Godfather is essentially the tale of the Corleone family, a crime syndicate of Italian Americans operating in New York under the guidance of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). When an attempt is made on the Don’s life, his son Michael (Al Pacino) finds himself caught up in the family business despite vowing never to get involved in their criminal activities. Part 2 witnesses his attempts to run the business and make it legitimate, but struggling to do so. Of course, this is a dumbing down of the basics of the plot, since there are so many plot strands and characters in these two movies, it’s hard to sum up in a single paragraph.
I’m going to come right out and say it. I did not enjoy The Godfather. I’ll get onto why in just a second, but first I will acknowledge what the films did right.
The performances are excellent across the board. I cannot fault a single actor in this. Al Pacino in particular as the de facto lead puts in a brilliantly subtle performance, and effectively shows his transformation from wide-eyed optimist with big plans for his future outside his family into the new Don. I also genuinely liked Robert De Niro’s performance as a young Vito in Part 2, particularly as he delivered most of it in Italian.
The famous horse’s head scene was one of the few parts of the two movies that actually exceeded my expectations. I’d heard about it through general references in pop culture, but I never expected it to be so gruesome. It’s a genuinely effective scene.
I also enjoyed the ending of Part 1, where scenes from a christening are contrasted against a series of assassinations on rival crime family heads. Part 2 utilised the same technique too, and it continued to work well.
It’s just such a shame that the movie overall feels incredibly tedious. Each movie is three hours long, but a lot of the time I felt they didn’t need to be. There are long periods of time in both movies where nothing in particular happens. Part 1 is the worst offender for this. Personally, I felt that the extensive discussion of plans to assassinate drug lord Sollozzo and corrupt police captain McCluskey actually took away much of the tension of the actual assassination scene, since we knew the entire plan before it was enacted.
I also didn’t really see any point in Michael wandering around Sicily for much of the second half of the movie either. Most of the events there are inconsequential and add nothing to the plot at large, and indeed were the exact point of the movie I began to want to go off and do something else.
Part 1 felt so tedious for me, in fact, that I approached Part 2 with a kind of detachment, only watching it out of obligation to the challenge. And while I felt Part 2 was a better film, it still felt dragged out. However, unlike Part 1, there were no obvious scenes that I felt could have been cut entirely, although maybe some trimming could have helped. Overall, though, while I came away from Part 1 bored out of my mind and mildly annoyed by scenes I felt could have been removed entirely, Part 2 left me with no lasting impression. I can barely remember much of it, truthfully.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel that The Godfather is a terrible movie, far from it. It’s a huge achievement. As stated, the performances are universally excellent, and many of Coppola’s directorial choices are fantastic, particularly in his extensive use of contrasting the criminal activities of the Corleone family with more acceptable activities, but overall, it didn’t engage me as much as it probably should. Quite simply, I didn’t care about anyone in either movie, and just wanted them to be over as quickly as possible.
My views will be controversial, I’m sure, but The Godfather is tremendously overrated. A marvel from a technical standpoint, but not much fun to watch.
Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill & Lee Strasberg
Written by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Albert S. Ruddy (Part 1) & Francis Ford Coppola (Part 2)
Music score by Nino Rota
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Edited by William H. Reynolds, Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin & Richard Marks
Favourite Scene: As stated, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the christening and the assassinations of the five family heads
Scene That Bugged Me: Screenwriting rule no. 1: do not explain a plan then enact the plan. The Godfather does it and shows just why you shouldn’t. All tension is removed from the scenes where Michael performs an assassination
Watch it if: You believe the hype
Avoid it if: You’re not interested in gangsters in the slightest