March 21, 2010

AFI #2 - The Godfather (1972)

The first thing I have to do when writing this is come clean: before now I had never seen Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. I had heard so many good things, yet I had never gotten around to seeing it and I now understand what all the hype is about. The Godfather is not only a masterpiece of the gang/mafia genre, but of modern cinema as a whole.

Where to begin? I suppose the first thing of note--probably the most blatantly obvious element of the film--is the performances of the entire ensemble cast. My favorites were the two leads: Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Without a doubt I was more impressed with their performances in The Godfather than almost any other performance in any other movie I've ever seen. With that being said, I wouldn't fight a single person if they made an argument for nearly any member of the entire cast being the most brilliant, as it really is the ensemble that elevates the film into the stratosphere of best films of all-time.

I want to give specific attention to Al Pacino's performance, because as much as Marlon Brando deserves credit for carrying the film, if you dive deeper into the film you begin to realize that the film isn't just about the life of Vito Corleone (played by Brando) but emergence of his son, Michael (played by Pacino), as the head of the family. I honestly believe that if Pacino and Brando hadn't been equally as impressive in this picture that the film would have been awkwardly out of sync and half of the narrative would have fallen flat.

Vito and Michael Corleone's brilliant character progression is equally as attributable to the writing as it is to the actor's performances. In any case, I do believe that this element of the film is remarkable and is what most impresses me when I think back about the film. The way that Mario Puzo and Coppola make the characters come full circle in this subtle way is fantastic and I really can't get over how well done it is. At the beginning Vito is in full power and Michael is a war hero, someone who is not a part of the family power dynamics. At the end we see the antithesis of this, with the last scene closing as Michael accepts power as don of the Corleone family and Vito is dead.

The build up in the scene where Michael murders the two men in the restaurant is probably the most anxious I've ever felt in a film. Even sitting by myself on my couch watching this scene built the tension so well that I was tense myself. When a film causes physical reaction in its viewers, it's pretty safe to say that magic is happening on-screen. In this case it certainly is. I still can't identify how Coppola did it so masterfully. In fact, maybe it was Al Pacino that was so brilliant that the inner conflict going on within his character was felt by the viewer. In any case, wow, what an incredible scene.

In my opinion the cinematography isn't really anything to be too excited about, especially when compared to other top ten movies like Citizen Kane (#1) and Vertigo (#9). To me it's another great movie that perfects its era of cinematography, immersing the audience in its world, but yet not innovating or advancing it. The setting is beautiful, and the lighting is something to be marveled at. I really do think that the way the sets and characters are lit are about as good as I've ever seen, yet I don't think it is as big of a benchmark in terms of the physical aspects of the film as Citizen Kane is. In this sense, it makes sense for it to sit at #2.

With all of this being said, the narrative and acting far outclass Kane, in my opinion, and therein lies the dilemma. Several of the top 100 lists put out by movie critics have The Godfather as the #1 movie of all-time: Metacritic, Entertainment Weekly and Empire Magazine. It should be considered in the top few movies of all-time, although it should be kept in mind that I still haven't seen six of the remaining eight top ten movies on the AFI list. I can understand people rating this movie at number one, but after giving Citizen Kane and The Godfather enough consideration, I think that Kane should sit on top, as it contributes more to the world of cinema than Godfather does. It's more entertaining and it's got better acting, but as a whole movie it isn't as important as Kane in how much it influenced films to come.

The Godfather is a very good movie, anyone who has seen it would tell you that. It seems to me that it probably has much wider appeal than Citizen Kane. Yet I still don't believe it is as relevant to modern films and because of this I'm rating it lower than Kane, but not by any significant amount. Simply put, The Godfather is a certainly in the canon of greatest American films of all-time.

Rating: 9.6/10

Relevant Links:
The Godfather - RottenTomatoes
The Godfather - IMDb
The Godfather - Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a Comment