- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by John Paulsen
rancis Ford Coppola’s epic 1972 crime drama, “The Godfather,” is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay. (It was based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Mario Puzo.) The American Film Institute ranked “The Godfather” as the second greatest movie in American cinematic history. The film is popular both with critics (#1 at Metacritic) and fans (#2 all-time at IMDB.com). Simply stated, it is one of the biggest success stories in movie history.
And it almost didn’t happen. Coppola was Paramount’s third choice after Italian director Sergio Leone and Peter Bogdanovich, and when the studio initially approached Coppola, he was reluctant to sign on because he was afraid that the film would glorify violence and depict Italian-Americans in a negative light. But he agreed to direct after having the idea to view the Corleone family through the spectrum of American capitalism. In spite of the film’s impending success, the Coppola-Paramount marriage was rocky at best. In fact, Coppola later said that the studio had another director shadowing him the entire time in case the higher-ups decided to make a change.
At the time, gangster films typically portrayed the mafia from an outsider’s perspective, but “The Godfather” instead focused on the reality of the family. The Corleones are just like any other clan, only instead of running a bakery or a hardware store, they deal in prostitution, gambling and racketeering. The film doesn’t show any of these enterprises, however, instead focusing on the inner dynamics of the family. Vito (Brando) is the patriarch, and he relies on the counsel of Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), his adopted son. Vito’s son, Sonny (James Caan), is a hothead and doesn’t have the temperament to take over as head of the family. When Vito is bedridden after an assassination attempt, another son, college grad and war hero Michael (played by a then-unknown Al Pacino), becomes more and more involved in the family business. On one level, “The Godfather” is about the final years of Vito’s reign. On another, it’s about how circumstances force Michael to embrace the Corleone legacy.
This family/business dynamic is evident from the very first scene of the film, where a local funeral director is asking Vito to bring justice to a couple of thugs that attacked his daughter. As the Don discusses the terms of this “favor,” his daughter’s wedding reception is being held just outside the door. This is a stark contrast, but the Corleones have this compartmentalization down to a science, although it’s something that Michael’s girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton), struggles with throughout the film.
It’s hard to believe that there’s a generation of moviegoers who haven’t taken the time to appreciate “The Godfather.” Sure, “Goodfellas,” “The Departed” and “Scarface” are terrific stories in their own right, but they probably wouldn’t have been made without the success of Coppola’s epic. He proved that a film about the mafia could be made in a realistic, multi-dimensional way, and that it could appeal to a broad audience. By doing so, he opened the door for countless gangster films to follow.
But “The Godfather” stands head and shoulders above the rest. Virtually every scene is dripping with intrigue and there is absolutely no fat, so the film’s 177 minutes go by in a snap. Its quiet intensity is enhanced by Nino Rota’s excellent score, which really takes center stage during the gorgeous landscapes shot in Italy. Story-wise, there is so much going on that it would have been easy for a director to lose control, but Coppola (helped by a screenplay co-written by Puzo) keeps it all together beautifully.
The Coppola Restoration Blu-Ray Review:
In 2008, the restoration conducted by Robert A. Harris of the Film Preserve was released on DVD and Blu-ray (in box set form). Recently, single-disc Blu-ray releases of each of the Godfather films have become available. Given the fact that the original films are more than 35 years old, the restoration looks absolutely gorgeous in full 1080p. While the box set features a plethora of special features, the single-disc version only has Coppola’s commentary. However, a good director’s commentary is often better than a dozen making-of featurettes, and Coppola’s certainly qualifies. He is candid about his relationship with Paramount and goes into great detail about all aspects of the making of “The Godfather.” Considering the four-disc box set can be had for about the same price as “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II” in single-disc format, however, it probably pays to go the box set route.