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An offer that we cannot refuse is exactly what Francis Ford Coppola brings with his delightful theatrical release of Mario Puzo’s 1969 crime novel “The Godfather”. Watching “The Godfather” is truly an unearthly experience; it is 175 minutes of pure excitement. The movie’s fresh, never seen before intake of the life of the Italian-American gangster renders viewers helpless in falling in love with the astoundingly complex, yet strangely captivating Corleone family. This movie excels on all fronts. Albert S. Ruddy excels in production, Francis Ford Coppola in direction, and the legendary all-star cast led by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino contribute to redefining the epic crime film genre, bringing it to the entirely new level.
Marlon Brando surprises everyone delivering his best leading performance. His incarnation of the Corleone family’s don, Vito, demonstrates that the aging star is still a master of his craft. Vito Corleone, a self-made Italian-American gangster, finds in Brando’s performance a harmonious reconcilement between his bloodied childhood and his moral principles as a beloved community leader and a family man in New York. Al Pacino, unknown at the time, took the role of Michael, the Corleone family’s pride and joy, and made it his own. A decorated war hero Michael epitomizes the new face of the Corleone family. However, after an assassination attempt on his father is made, and his own brother Santino (played by James Caan) is assassinated by a rival crime family, Michael has no choice but to step in and take his father’s place as the family’s don. Pacino delivers an inspiring performance as he brings out both the best and worst in his character showing a more humane aspect of the American mobster (as he is torn between his humanity and his sense of duty towards his heritage, towards his family).
The film takes us back to post-WWII America, a time when the city of New York was governed by organized crime. The story revolves around the leading of the so-called “5 families,” the Corleone crime family. As the story unfolds, a compelling story of love, war, treason, violence, family, and death develops. Going from the chaotic urban environment that characterizes New York to the peaceful, beautiful natural Sicilian landscape, the film accurately describes the plight of a man who tries to distance himself from his family’s obscure past, but is inevitably forced to repeat his father’s history as the loyalty to his family overpowers his sense of righteousness.
“The Godfather” is innovating as it presents a never before seen face of organized crime in America. However, being a film that centers on gangsters, it does contain the most characteristic elements of epic crime films centering on the figure of the American gangster, namely violence, chauvinism, devout Catholicism, and evident womanizing (most notably, by the eldest of the Corleone’s sons, Santino). These elements are all important as they keep the audience focused on the fact that despite being humane family-driven characters, they are still violent gangsters that live off society’s permissiveness, decadence, and vice.
“The Godfather” is a film that the audience can relate to, but more importantly, it is a film that real gangsters can relate to. For years, films centering on these individuals have forsaken the gangsters’ persona, their family values, their inner motivations and conflicts. Francis Ford Coppola defies the historical portrayal of the American gangster presenting him as more than just a violent criminal. The film not only succeeds in showing how organized crime is perceived from inside, but also in shedding an entirely different light on the figure of the don. The Godfather is more than a mobster; he is more than a father and a husband. The Godfather is a man.