Reviewer: Charity Bishop
When Mario Puzo wrote this novel, he was hoping for a best-seller to get him out of some mafia trouble. His book became an immediate success and the movie rights were optioned even before it hit local bookshelves. The movie has been even more successful in the forty years since.
Italian tradition among the Five Families in New York during the 1940’s permits wedding guests to visit Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and ask for “favors,” with the understanding that one day, the Don will call on them to do one in return. This “business” is separate from the personal pleasure of his only daughter’s wedding day. While promising to arrange his godson’s part in a movie role, agreeing to dispose of two boys who brutalized a funeral parlor owner’s daughter, and listening to the nervous congratulations of his favorite thug, Vito keeps an ear to the door, waiting for the arrival of his favorite son, Michael (Al Pacino).
The composed, war-veteran young man is much different from the rest of his family… on the outside. His father plans for him to expand their empire by becoming a politician, so Michael is dating Kay (Diane Keaton), an all-American pastor’s daughter. None of them realize that events set in motion at the wedding that day will lead to a legacy of bloodshed and violence that force Michael to take another path from one intended and step into his father’s shoes as the Godfather.
I’ve loved this movie since I first watched it during the holidays at age fifteen. It’s a masterwork that by modern standards might be seen as “slow,” but a patient viewer comes to understand the reason for its pacing and the vignettes that slowly build into the over-reaching plot; to understand Michael, we must first be familiar with his “empire.” The director had an uphill battle throughout, fighting studio casting choices in favor of a mostly Italian cast, risking being fired right off the bat, and finally turning in a movie much longer than anticipated. But it works, and it works well. Even if you hate it, there’s still a lot of psychology and human nature to study.
The premise isn’t as memorable as the characters; the stark differences in Vito and his sons, the quiet, calculating approach to murder, and of course, some of the most iconic scenes in film history. The cast is wonderful, the script finely honed, and it demands intelligence from its audience. It’s not so much a “gangster” film as the story of one man’s descent into darkness. Each time I watch it, something different stands out to me, whether it’s the contrast between morality and ambition or to ponder the inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the characters’ behaviors.
Whether you love or hate it, you’ll never forget it, and few movies can make that claim.
A short clothed sex scene (includes movement and sounds); a woman disrobes for her new husband and we briefly see her bare breasts. A man says two boys got his daughter drunk and beat her when she wouldn't sleep with them.
Lots of mild profanity; nine uses of GD and one of "Jesus Christ!"
A dozen men are brutally shot (some blood spurts); two men are graphically strangled (one has his hand pinned to a par with a knife first); a man screams at and slaps his wife with his belt; we see her bruised face and hear her screams as it continues off-camera; one man beats up another badly, kicking him and smashing him into things. A man finds the severed head of his racing stallion in bed with him (lots of blood).
A man has his enemies gunned down while he stands as godfather at a Catholic christening. There is quite a bit of drinking. We overhear a man urinating on the side of the road.