The Godfather – Movie Review Example

Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather was first published in 1969 and was later made into an unprecedentedly successful film by Francis Coppola in 1972. The story is about a gangster mafia family originally from Sicily, settled in the US and at the time of the story, headed by a Don Vito Corleone. The role of Vito was played by Marlon Brando and that of his youngest son, Michael, by Al Pachino. The popularity of The Godfather transcends generational and gender gaps, retaining its impressive stature in film history even today.
The Godfather movie differs from the book in several obvious and subtle ways. Wherever the movie departs from the plot of the book though, it makes up for it more than adequately. For instance, the back-story on Sonny’s promiscuity that fills up a few pages in the book is succintly indicated in one fleeting scene at the wedding sequence in the beginning of the film where Sonny’s wife is seen joking with her friends, signifying quite obviously with her gestures what the the text tells us about his affair with Lucy Mancini. If at all major chunks of the narrative are omitted, they do not take away from the main story. In fact, ommission of the sub-plot of Lucy’s story and her love affair with her doctor, for instance, makes the movie a much more effective and tighter narrative.
The actors chosen for these roles have gone down in history ever since. Marlon Brando, who refused the Oscar for best male actor for his performance, was one of Mario Puzo’s initial choices for the role (“The Godfather”, 2010). Brando’s stylized mannerisms and way of speaking have become a trademark for almost every mafioso that followed in Hollywood. It is difficult to imagine any other actor bring to Vito Corleone the sophisticated restraint that gmakes the Godfather so intimidating. Small wonder then that this performance helped Brando turn his career the right way up again (Dirks, n.d.).
Al Pacino, who stays on for both sequels to the movie, is also remarkable in his role. Michael’s ‘dead-pan’ expression in the book is transmuted flawlessly onto Pacino’s face. Pacino’s age at the time was fortunately suited perfectly to Michael’s youth. The most impressive transformation of all perhaps is the suave, non-violent Michael’s into the cold and calculating godfather at the end of the movie.
There are several themes in The Godfather, but one that strikes me as most emphasized in both book and movie, is that of loyalty. Filial loyalty, of course, taking the lead in this case. The godfather is the symbolic patriarch of his entire community, his ‘Soldatis.’ Loyalty works both ways in this world. Like Vito tells Bonasera, the system works on the basis of ‘friendship’ and not monetary relationships.
Corleone (after standing and turning his back): Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If youd come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.
Bonasera: Be my friend - - Godfather (Dirks, n.d.).
The godfather, as is suggested from his name, takes pride in protecting his people, his territory. Protection in the underworld is nothing without violence, and this is what gives the story its frightening edge. There is no easy decision to make: the violence seems justified when it is seen from the godfather’s point of view and yet in an ideal world can such extreme violence really be justified? The story does not concern itself with such matters, though the audience might have to.
The cinematography by Gordon Willis is also brilliantly executed. The entire movie alternates between dark and well-lit sequences. The ‘behind-the-doors’ scenes take place in underexposed, dark surroundings with the characters shrouded in mysterious shadows. Scenes like that of Connie’s wedding and Sonny’s killing happens out in the open in broad daylight. This changing of the lighting emphasizes the dual nature of the business. The one ‘legitimate’ façade of the godfather’s circle and the other murkier, more frightening side full of cold-blooded strategies, murders and revenge plots.
The musical score too has achieved epic-status in popular culture today. The familiar refrains on the violin of the Godfather Theme and the Italian Love theme are synonymous today with the beautiful yet violent side to Sicily that Puzo and later Coppola so deftly show us. The use of the haunting music helps provide emotions where the understated actor’s faces refuse to. The combination of Michael’s dead-pan face and the melancholy strains of the Godfather theme as he tells his father ‘I’m here for you, Pop’ serve to make that crucial moment suitably poignant. The music, that has by this point in the film, become an aural clue to signify the godfather (acting as another symbol, like the patriarch-figure mentioned before), lets the audience know that this is the moment of Michael’s transformation. In that instant where son and father look at each other, with no excessive emotion on either face, the tension and the cruciality of the moment is emphasized by the superb use of the jazz music and the dark lighting.
The actors, the light-and-shadow use of lighting, the haunting music all combine to make The Godfather the endearing favourite among cinephiles that it is today, has been for decades now, and will continue to be so.
Works Cited
The Godfather. [3 May 2010]. Wikipedia. Retrieved 3 May 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Godfather
Dirks, Tim (n.d.).[Review of the film The Godfather]. Filmsite. Retrieved 3 May 2010 from http://www.filmsite.org/godfB.html
Coppola, F. (Director). (1972). The Godfather. Hollywood: Paramount Pictures.