The Godfather

This post, for the record, is only about the first movie in The Godfather trilogy - I have to watch Part II in a few months, but never Part III, which everyone hates. The Godfather is the father of all good mafia movies, directed in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola. It basically created the style of mafia movies that most of us are so familiar with - where we see the mafia from an insider's perspective, and we feel a lot of sympathy for the characters. Pretty much all mob movies that do this are indebted to Coppola's film. The characters are evil people, but we care for them, somehow. I'm going to assume, perhaps wrongly, that most people have seen this film and know the basis of the plot. If not, head over here to read it.

Most mob movies before this were told from the perspective of an outsider. The mob was bad. They did bad stuff to innocent people and they were criminals - which is all true. In The Godfather, we see that they do bad things, and we see a lot of horrible violence, but we also come to care for these characters. We see a family structure emerge. Some of  these characters lead double lives - they do criminal things, but when they come home, they are fathers and husbands, and they don't talk about their work with their wives. There are even charcters in this film, such as Don Corleone, who "emerges as a sympathetic and even admirable character; during the entire film, this lifelong professional criminal does nothing of which we can really disapprove" (The Great Movies, 194). For me, watching this movie, I felt a real sense of sadness when he died amongst the tomato plants. Coppola gives these characters such life and depth that we can't help but feel for them. We can somehow relate to them, as odd as it seems to say. 

Pretty much everyone I know treats The Godfather movies with a sense of reverence. They feel modern - the characters are timeless, the mafia is timeless, the violence is still horrible and gross. I could see, though, that since so many mob movies (since this one) follow the same ideas presented in The Godfather, it could feel not as exciting to some people. After you've watched The Sopranos for many seasons, which is of course full of sympathetic mob characters, The Godfather might not feel so new and fresh.

As much as I love this movie, I think for some people it needs some historical context. One thing that makes this movie important is that it was basically the role that made Al Pacino so famous. He was cast as an unknown - Coopola wanted him but the studio didn't want to take a risk and cast some random actor. Coopola was determined, and it paid off. Pacino plays Michael perfectly, he looks, sounds, and feels really real, like you're watching a real wise guy. Other characters are interesting looking, not pretty or Hollywood. They have deep lines and strange face shapes. It makes it easier to buy into the story, since the cast looks so average and normal. It's also easier to relate to them and empathize with them, since it's always easier to feel for people who look real and normal.

Many people are used to seeing mob structure and watching them from the perspective of an insider. However, this wasn't the case until The Godfather came along. I watched this movie after seeing a bunch of newer mafia movies, and reading a lot about the mob (memoirs written by children of mob bosses or undercover agents), so I sort of have always liked this because I am interested in the subject. Anthony told me that this was his first mob movie he ever watched, and because of it, he sought out many other movies, because he was so intrigued by it. If only we were all so lucky to see the movie in that way.

If you haven't seen this movie, try to picture watching it in the context I described. Even if you watch it again, think of this when you see it. Think of the wonder and excitement at seeing the inner workings of such a strange, fascinating organization for the first time. The Godfather was so influential that Wikipedia says that mob members who saw it started to try to speak like the characters in the film! Coopola is a visionary, as I wrote about before, and he yet again shows us a world that viewers cannot experience. We may be sort of overwhelmed with a great selection of mob movies, but this is the big one, the one that started it all, and it needs to be seen. It is a truly wonderful film. :)

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Godfather

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