Saturday, September 27

Blind Spot: The Godfather

As I wrote the title of the post, I could still hear the film's opening score playing in my head. That was how intriguing the film is, that the mere mention of its title, one can conjure up Marlon Brando staring at you, his calm demeanor hiding the ruthless truth of what happens in a mafia community. With the mafia, every move is a strategy, every word a hanging threat, and every ally a service. In a glance, The Godfather shows the dealings that occur in the world of organized crime, but also exhibits the inner turmoils of the members involved in such dealings.

The film opens at a wedding reception of the only daughter of Don Vito Corleone, who is commonly known as the Godfather. Despite the happy occasion, he is inside his office, listening to the story of a funeral parlor owner, asking for Don Corleone's help to avenge his daughter. The Godfather rambles on, how he is feared by, or not even choosing to address him correctly or ask for his friendship before finally agreeing to do him a service. Through the reception, we are introduced to Don Corleone's family, from his three sons to the people who have pledged his loyalty to him. However, in the succeeding scenes of the film, the focus is drawn to Michael, the youngest son and the only one who isn't involved in the family business. Michael is a soldier who has tried to distinguish himself differently from his family. The moment Michael enters the scene, one can already assume his determination not to relate himself with his family. He brought a non-Italian girlfriend with him, they kept to himself and even went so far as to tell the truth of his father's dealings with his companion. In a way, the film plunges into the world of the mafia, and tells the tale of a promising lad succumbing to the temptations and practices of a life he initially declined. 

How the characters are presented in a wedding party says a lot of their environment - their personal and professional lives cannot be separated. As time goes by, they cannot settle into a kind of living because they're always mindful of their back. Each piece of news becomes groundbreaking, each gossip and accusation leading to conclusions that are most likely true. Don Corleone's life exemplified that, even Michael's life was akin to it. The film narrates both the lives of Don Corleone and Michael, with their paths intertwining, as the end of Vito Corleone does Michael Corleone start. The nature of events are triggered by the refusal of Don Corleone to provide protection to Sollozzo, a leader of a drug cartel. Backed up by another family, they go on a killing spree, even trying to assassinate the Godfather himself. The Corleones retaliate with Michael killing Sollozzo and the police chief, the act launching a blood shed between the families.

What makes The Godfather remarkable is not the amount of bloodshed and activities we encounter during its three-hour run time, but it's the development of both lead characters. We know Don Corleone holds a significant amount of power, and he exhibits his hold on people quite strongly, yet when he was forced to go into early retirement due to a series of events, instead of brooding over for revenge, he sits his son down and apologizes. He apologizes that the path Michael is currently on was not what he had envisioned for his son. Instead of teaching him tools to use for revenge, he adviced his son on survival, on who he should watch out for, and should be careful of. Instead of insisting all of this, he calmly states those facts in all seriousness, and yet you can feel the love that Don Corleone has to his son. Michael was obviously his favorite son, even if he was grooming Sonny to be the next Godfather. That scene became one of my favorites from the film because it was a tender moment between father and son.

You have to hand it to Marlon Brando. As an aged mob boss, you would have expected grit and force from his character, but he delivers in a dead pan, singular state manner that it works. Through his delivery alone, you could tell that he meant business and he wasn't fooling around - even when asking for a truce between the warring families. I thought that the way his story ended was quite symbolic, because it wasn't the kind of living that he was used to, or the kind of passing that he expected that will happen to a mob boss. I'd like to think that he was, at that moment, at peace.

Michael's development, on the other hand, can be considered as the reverse of his father's. Despite initially resisting the business, he soon joined them due to his loyalty to his family. His transition was very visible, from masterminding a revenge act to ultimately being a ruthless leader. It was evident on his facial expression during the two varying scenes. In his first act as a member of the family, his anxiousness was still visible despite what is a well thought-out plan. He still looked nervous, a perfect cover up considering he was facing people with more experience in the industry than he does. He tries to lead a normal life, but ends up taking over the family. In the succeeding scenes, you could see that the glitches have gone away. He was now confident and self assured. He became wiser, he knew how to strategize. It helped painted Michael to become who he was due to the multiple losses he occurred - first his brother, then his wife. While he ended up marrying someone that was only relatively familiar with his family background, marrying Kay doesn't signify that he still had some innocence left in him, but she's someone who Michael has now embraced: his past. Even when he tried to distanced himself, he still went back. This was why the baptism scene and the final scene were so masterful, because it encompasses the whole being of Michael. This was Michael now, and there was no turning back.

Al Pacino should have been nominated for Best Actor, his performance was deserving of the title. He took the same approach as Brando did, which says a lot about their characters. Unlike his fellow co-stars (who portrayed his brothers) whom, were abrasive and lively, Pacino's performance was somber. It was fitting for the character, as he portrayed the kind of qualities that his father had. Pacino, who was relatively unknown that time, was able to portray his character with conviction and finesse that it wasn't difficult to accept his character development. Despite the shifting persona of his character, Pacino still played him perfectly. No wonder he became a star, with such terrific performance, he did present the industry with a lot of potential.

They were accompanied by an array of supporting characters, but a notable character and performance would have to be Tom Hagen, played by Robert Duvall. He had an interesting character, and for someone who plays the adviser to the Corleone's, he was given his moment onscreen, and doesn't disappoint. A lively performance belongs to James Caan, who played Sonny. His character was fooling around most of the time, and he exhibited traits that differed from his father, but his loyalty was there. He was given more material to work with, as opposed to John Cazale, who played Fredo. Still, his character exhibited the physicality that Michael, nor their father, wouldn't have embodied, and he too, was given a moment onscreen. His character's massacre scene was surprising and brilliant.

This might sound morbid, but some of my favorite scenes are the murder scenes because they were executed artistically, in terms of a crime movie. Usually it's just random shooting, but there's always an element of surprise or planning that went into executing these scenes in the film. The baptism scene would have to be the majestic scene, because of the contrast of Michael's vows to his actual intentions. As he promises to do good, a different act of his defiance to those vows occur. This is how the full progression of Michael's character is revealed. It was certainly an eye-opener as to how Michael has fully transformed from a classified good guy to the future leader of the mob.

Francis Ford Coppola had rich material in his hands, and he has extracted all he can, delivering a masterful film. The length of the film may be intimidating, but the scenes that encompasses the lives of the Corleone clan simply elevate the characters and decisions that lead these people to how they are in the finale. In a way, each scene makes sense and reveals something interpersonal about the characters. In terms of content, it might not be as significant as a real-life event, but Coppola and author (and fellow script writer) Mario Puzo were able to transform a crime novel into a work of masterpiece. While I am indeed intrigued at what The Godfather Part II has installed for the viewers, I think I'm going to wait and let this film settle with me.


Final Word: A true masterpiece. While I'm looking forward to seeing other Francis Ford Coppola works, I'm going to wait a while before seeing The Godfather Part II, as I don't want it immediately robbing me of the experience of The Godfather.

Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Year: 1972

8 comments:

  1. Oh, the second chapter won't rob you of anything! It's also a masterpiece and flows so beautifully into this one.

    You don't need to rush out to see the third installment though.

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    1. I heard the third movie was bad, not rushing to see it but I might give the second film a go sometime soon!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this one as it is truly a great movie. Have to agree with Fisti, watching Part II will rob you of nothing. It is another towering achievement. The third is okay, but far inferior to the first two. Great post.

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    1. This film intrigued me to see the second installment, maybe sometime soon!

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  3. The score of the Godfather is truly amazing! It's ominous and beautiful at the same time. I have seen this first one w/ my brothers as a kid and some scenes are still indelible in my mind. I haven't seen the sequels yet though.

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  4. It's so comforting when a classic actually lives up to is reputation, isn't it? The Godfather is one of those films that's just that good. And while I do think it's smart to let Part I sink in for a while (and maybe even watch it again), I agree with Fisti that Part II will in no way dampen the appeal of Part I. They work so damn well together, it's seamless. Part III, however...

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    1. It's intimidating to watch classics because of their reputation - but I was happy that this one lived up to expectation. The characters were well-developed, and everything just comes together.

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  5. Hey I also picked this movie as my Blind Spot in September. The music is so memorable for sure. And I agree, it is a masterpiece. Brando and Al Pacino were perfect!

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