Film Review: IMDBinge - The Godfather
Catherine's 2016 Challenge - watch all 250 of IMDb's top rated films. Today she reviews the ultimate gangster classic, The Godfather, now currently no. 2 on the list.
Yes, you read that right. I had never seen The Godfather until now. According to the IMDb users, it’s the second greatest film of all time, closely followed by the Part II in third (I hear part three is notoriously awful but I may never get to that one as it’s not on the list). So I put aside the full three hours to watch Francis Ford Coppola’s classic gangster flick, ready to pay full attention to a film that so many people cherish and adore. With all the hype, I kind of knew it couldn’t possibly be as good as they said but I soldiered on and watched closely.
The story is good, although you’d have to have been hiding under a rock for the last several decades not to know it: organised crime boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) has just married his daughter off and is shot in the street by rival gangsters. He survives his ordeal but his son Michael (Al Pacino), who has always tried to stay out of the family business, gets sucked into the world of organised crime and winds up being more ruthless and brutal than all of them. It’s a story we’ve seen a lot since then and one which rings so true – the vicious cycle of revenge and violence. It’s one that has been emulated time and again because it just cuts so deep in its accuracy. When you can’t trust anybody, when will you know that the violence has stopped? There’s always someone’s death that remains un-avenged and the suspense hangs tensely in the air.
The three act structure that works so blissfully well in this case is one we’ve seen emulated to a T in films such as The Deer Hunter, another well-made crowd pleaser. They start with a wedding, then seem move locations and mood in the middle section and then we have the third part that revolves around the return of the hero, who is undoubtedly in many ways a broken man. Another impressive film making technique is the sound of babies crying. This creates an atmosphere of unease and discomfort often during moments where we can’t even see a baby or the baby we can see is definitely not crying. The cleverness is that you don’t quite notice that the sound is being used artificially to create tension – the beauty of great filmmaking.
Brando’s performance is the one hailed as the greatest, and for which he won an Oscar, but his methods during filming and for others are the kinds that don’t impress me: he didn’t learn his lines and, like the other actors, was prone to being surprisingly violent, calling it improvisation. For me the star performance was Al Pacino, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, showing that it isn’t just recent nominations for the category that have caused controversy. In fact, Pacino boycotted the Oscars in protest at what seemed like a snug, considering he actually had more screen time than Brando who was nominated for best lead. Robert Duvall’s performance was also very measured and impressive as Tom Hagen.
The problem that I had with the film was its treatment of women. Now, let me begin by saying this is quite clearly not a film for women. It’s not that there aren’t women in it; they’re just treated like shit. The most obvious example of this is the physical abuse of Vito’s daughter, Connie, who is beaten on a number of occasions, once simply as bait to lure Sonny out of hiding and to his death. However, even after this grave beating, nothing happens. For a family who are pretty much obsessed with revenge for those they love, the violence committed against its women is startlingly overlooked. When Carlo finally gets his comeuppance, it is only because he has betrayed the family business. Apollonia, Michael’s short-lived (literally) wife, barely says a word and is attractive because she’s pretty and says nothing. She is promptly blown up because of course Michael’s marrying her in the first place has already put her in grave danger. Having not learnt his lesson, he returns to New York to ask the woman he abandoned, Kay (Diane Keaton), to marry him, even though she will be in danger with him. He craves a safe haven in family life, which is essentially impossible. The icing on the woman-manipulating cake is when he finally bumps off Carlo and Connie is inexplicably distraught. When Kay asks him if he really did do it, he lies.
I think in this case I am beginning to see why it is considered one of the greatest films of all-time by audiences and critics alike. However, a couple more viewings might be helpful too, though there are still over 100 left on the list to go by the end of the year, so it might have to wait. Part II is now even more essential watching.