The Godfather (1972)

One of the Greatest Films of All-Time, Francis Ford Coppola’s multi-generational crime saga masterpiece on Mario Puzo’s novel in 1940’s NYC is a flawlessly directed, acted, & scripted tale of power, justice, revenge, and the legacy of a family. 10/10.

Plot Synopsis: The Godfather follows Don Corleone, the head of the mafia and “Godfather” of organized crime in New York in the 1940’s. He is getting older, and being eyed by many looking to take his place. After Corleone refuses to give up his seat to one of his subalterns, a wave of crime and war surges between the families until a new successor is finally chosen.

*Possible spoilers ahead*


The Crime Drama Of All Crime Dramas

A Multi-Generational Francis Ford Coppola Crime Saga Masterpiece Parable Based On Mario Puzo’s 1940’s NYC-Set #1 Bestseller

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Universally-acclaimed by both critics and fans, The Godfather is one of the most instantly-recognizable films in cinematic history. Everyone has heard of it; it’s still as infamous and talked-about 50+ years later as it was on that fateful day it released back on March 24, 1972. But just why is it so revered? A mafia crime film chronicling the Corleone family dynasty’s reign and events under the patriarchal fist of Vito Corleone, the answer might seem ~esoteric to anyone unfamiliar with gangster flicks or who hasn’t yet experienced it firsthand. Once you see it for the first time though, it changes your life – the masterpiece was an unprecedented look into organized crime, vivid canvas of Italian-American cultural thematization, groundbreaking evolutionary leap for American movie history, and savior film that salvaged Paramount Pictures, revitalized Marlon Brando’s career, and established one of cinema’s top new prospective directors: Francis Ford Coppola. One of the Greatest Films of All-Time, Coppola’s multi-generational crime saga masterpiece on Mario Puzo’s novel in 1940’s NYC is a flawlessly directed, acted, & scripted tale of power, betrayal, justice, and the legacy of a family.

‘I Believe In America’

A Dark Vision Of The American Dream & What Happens When The Justice System Fails Immigrants Who Believe & Trust Most

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The words emerge from the black background before we even see a face or visual to accompany them: ‘I Believe In America.’ What is at-first-glance presented to us as a celebration of the U.S. by the opening statement mutates into a horrific, malefic tale weaved before us of a broken father forced to watch his daughter beaten ‘like an animal’ for trying to walk the tight-rope of American freedom and cultural values; enjoy independence while still respecting one’s family and people. It is one of the most instantly-provocative, efficacious, & commanding preliminary scenes in cinematic history – establishing an authoritative presence bolstered by the dramatic use of light in the misé-en-scene with a singular floodlight on Bonasera’s angry face against a black background, and that Coppola’s painting of the eponymous novel is going to be powerful, intense, and thematically-complex one. The anguished parable of minority suffering recounted by our migrant narrator serves as a dark vision of The American Dream. Even immigrants who ‘play nice’ and ‘follow the rules’ – ones who work hard, keep their heads down, enthuse patriotism, avoid trouble, and do what they’re told: calling the police and trying to work through our justice system when the unthinkable happens to their daughter at the hands of American citizens – cannot escape the pervasive white supremacy & systemic fixation able to get its people, even when faced with charges of physical assault and attempted-rape, off clean so they can smile at the victim’s family as they walk out of the courtroom. We may believe in America, but America doesn’t always believe in us – depending on our nationality & status. The film took a bold, unprecedented stance in Hollywood at the time – portraying the star-spangled nation as one broken, a cynical view of the American Dream-turned-just-that: a (distant/pipe) dream. Broken, humiliated, and with nowhere else left to turn plus a shattered daughter, the family turns to The Godfather to enact the justice that God and democracy deprived them of, even at the cost of a blank check and mystery ‘service’ he’ll one day be called upon to carry out – opening up a Pandora’s box of complex philosophical, sociological, and religious themes.

La Familia

A Celebration Of Authentic Italian Culture, Traditions, Life, Narrative Establishment, & Ostensible Normalcy – Calm Before Storm

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Before the film delves into the implications of this behind-the-scenes canvas of revenge and justice, we’re presented with an alternative one: a wedding bursting with cultural majesty and celebration that’s perhaps the happiest (and only happy) moment in the entire trilogy. Paramount struck gold here by picking a director of true Italian descent to helm this canvas so rooted in Sicilian traditions – fixing their achilles’ heel in mafia/mobster flicks beforehand foolishly choosing non-Italians and thus getting non-authentic, dollars-and-cents, counterfeit pictures audiences were able to see right through. Throughout this cinematic epic, Coppola & co. wear their Italian’s heart on their sleeve – a refreshing purity whose cultural and traditional pride viewed through the prism of real-life experience he no doubt brought to the canvas is enough to elicit pure awe from the film’s backdrops of the rolling hills of Italy itself-on to this especially-jubilant wedding. It serves as a brilliant showcase of thematization crucial to Italian culture: like food, drink, music in traditional folk norms utilizing old-fashioned instruments like bagpipe-reminiscent piva’s and operatic overtures, dance of ancient genres like tarantella and pizzica, revelry, and – above all – la familia. The most central, sacred belief of the Italian people – as learned through my years of study at university-level of their language and culture elective-wise as my favorite world culture – is the sanctity and bond of one’s family. A crux the entire film revolves around, family is critical in every aspect of The Godfather – most recognizable here as we’re introduced to each member of the Corleone genealogical tree in the backdrop of pure revelry, fun, and celebration of life.. the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’ of what’s to come.

The Power Struggle

A Striking Exposition Of Brutalized Violence, Clashing Family Powers, & Guerrilla Warfare In 1940’s NYC Streets

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

What follows that light, airy day of joie-de-vivre is a striking portrait of violence, gunsmoke, fedoras, machine rifles, black sedans, garroted throats, vengeance, and lead-storms amongst the rain-soaked streets of 1940’s NYC. We’re coerced to bear witness to a tragic tale of difficult-to-stomach guerrilla warfare, barbarity, and loss-of-life – one of the most horrific and intense depictions of violence and power ever filmed painting through visceral, hard-R nonverbalized imagery the ghastly horror of mafia life. At first, the portrayal is almost-black comedic – best exemplified by the infamous horse’s head in the bed sending men across the country on a late-night flight and turning a braggadocios/cantankerous Hollywood studio exec into a shrieking child because he refused The Godfather’s demand. The tone begins to shift though, as we see bodies start to drop one-by-one in increasingly-brutalized and imaginatively-depraved ways – from horse’s heads in beds to exploding vehicles of pregnant newlywed wives to fish-messages of a garroted-and-knife-pinned hitman to set-ups at a highway toll station to trapping someone in a revolving door claustrophobically helpless to fight his preeminent assassination. The film portrayed violence in a new, shocking way audiences had not been used to (and would be seeing a lot more of as one of The Godfather’s influences on the crime film genre), lining the streets of this masochistic warzone and hierarchical food chain with an overflowing repository of littered corpses. All this street-terrorism, for all its pomp and flair, was still integral to the story though and efficacious as a larger existential point Coppola makes with stark show-not-tell commentary on the mafia world’s savage, bloodthirsty systemic spiral of homicide and carnage – wherein no character across the film is allowed even one passing moment’s glance of happiness and non-paranoia, even (involuntarily) setting into the motion the chain of events causing each other’s deaths in these chess-like moves and countermoves. This massively self-aware and self-critical analysis of its own horrific subject separates The Godfather from its genre and larger-era kin, begging to question (as Don Corleone finally epiphanizes by film’s end) if it’s all really worth it? What good is all the power, toys, henchmen, and resources in the world if it means you have to take your son’s lead-pumped corpse to the coroner’s office to try to recover some semblance of normalcy in appearance for the funeral, or lose your brother and newly-married wife in the same week? Is a life always spent looking over your shoulder or second-guessing your closest friend’s behind-the-scenes bankroll really.. life? The Godfather is a modern parable of existential crisis for the ages: a brutality-steeped, dark tale of senseless violence and hyper-masculine ego’s, ambition, transgressions, and retribution forming a vicious cycle in pursuit of control of a concrete jungle (just as it was in the real jungle of generations-past and will-be in the cyber jungle of generations-future as perhaps a larger point about mankind’s nature) – brought to life by a once-in-a-lifetime collection of performances.

The Performances & Characterization

A Portrait Of Mythic Characterization Led By Marlon Brando’s Grandiose, Epochal, Monarchical, But Tortured Don Corleone

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The biggest triumph of The Godfather beyond mythic direction and violence exposition by Francis Ford Coppola is its performances & characterization. It might wield one of the best casts and character collections in moviemaking history. The Corleones feel like Coppola knew them as children and wanted to bring their story to the big screen with love and surgical-depth/precision – a craftsman screenplay by him and Puzo weaving a dazzling canvas of characters brought script-to-screen through legendary performances. Of course, the most famous and prolific of these is Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone – one of the most quintessential, iconic performances in cinematic history and one that saved Brando’s career plummeting from previous heights like A Streetcar Named Desire, Superman, & Viva Zapata to regain critical stardom. The supple nuance, velvety delivery with the smoothness of freshly-poured olive oil, and gentle/restrained presence exuding grandiose power and commanding respect by title yet all with the gentility in demeanor of our grandfather while petting a purring cat makes for one of the most distinctive, nonpareil, and most unforgettable performances of the 20th century. Though Don Corleone has all the power and limitless resources a mortal could want, he’s torn by the job of being God to at-times disrespectful or advantageous adherents branding them as hitmen or elicting for unnecessary/amoral causes; he’s torn by the effects all this carnage, violence, and money/power has on his children and himself, sometimes wanting to just pick some oranges from the market but forgetting about omnipresent rivals/enemies; he, above all, just wants a picture with his family at his daughter’s wedding – who can’t relate to that? Al Pacino’s tour-de-force performance as the fascinating Michael is equally, if not more impressive – a golden-boy and innocent young Marine/WWII-vet vehemently refusing any part in his family’s brutesque dealings at first, yet ends up convoluted in its web even more corrupted, cold-hearted, and satanic-forceful than the rest by film’s end in the harrowing, duality-rich final baptism sequence. Though The Godfather is externally-based in politicization, chess-moves, and systemic stragems to overthrow familial powers by Giapettos pulling strings behind-the-scenes, it is equally a human tale portraying the darkest, most tragic parts of mankind: violence, murder, betrayal, domestic abuse, corruption, etc. The rest of the cast – from recalcitrant tough-guy Santino to calculating consigliere Tom Hagan to physically-towering muscle/hit-man Luca Brasi to comic-relieving caporegime Clemenza to timid, soft Kay to seductive Apollonia – are all given top-tier, flawless performances for a mythic, once-in-a-century family portrait soaked in doom, dread, and despair.

The Religious Existential Themes

An Undertonal Analysis of God The Father’s Role, Job, & Experience In Events In Contrast To The Godfather’s – & Ours As The Viewers

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

A religious and philosophical meld of themes takes place in the undertones of the film as well – adding even more intellectual weight beyond its street-level, insiders’, tangible mafia analysis. The Godfather – a clever play on words rearranging God, The Father as referenced in Biblical texts & Catholicism prevalently followed by Italian people from The Vatican to NYC – is given a complex portrayal of godlike power and dichotomized morality/duality. Don Corleone commands respect, loyalty, and service from his followers – ruling with an iron fist and absolute, thunderous presence much akin to The Old Testament’s descriptions of (Biblical) God. Vito’s throne and namesake affords him the ability to send minions and underlings to do his bidding across the proverbial landscape, pulling the strings of the system behind-the-scenes as his bidding is carried out from the cold shores of California to ghettoes of The Bronx. He exhibits a moral code refusing hit jobs and putting family/justice above all else, and rewards those who humble themselves and plead devotion/foregiveness/saving from their crisis or issue – all very similar to our Lord as well. The difference lies in the immediacy, interest, and means of their work. The Godfather’s signature M.O. is to rewrite wrongs our democracy and justice system (sculpted very intentionally after The Commandments and laws of The Bible reverberating their themes/laws, especially here in the United States) failed someone like Bonasera and his family, but also requiring a blank-check service in return and acting in the family’s own self-interest as well in parts in difference to God and angels’ prayer-fulfillment (in theory) out of benevolence and love. The Corleone’s also enact their justice through a much more violent and morally-gray intimidative style that only gets cloudier and darker as the screenplay progresses from brain-splattered contracts to horse’s heads to narcotics-trafficking, similar in booming/commanding authoritative-presence to Old Testament God but wildly different than New Testaments versions and his principles altogether. This is (brilliantly) exposéd in the vociferous Baptism sequence that’s more tonally-reminiscent of supernatural horror films like The Exorcist or Omen than a Mafia flick – splicing together the hypocrisy of Michael (and perhaps by extension, many others) claiming moral sanctitude and denouncing ‘evil’ while spreading it and violating sacred law themselves behind-the-scenes. Going hand-in-hand is an analysis of masculinity and the role of man – when you have mouths to feed or people to provide for, what are the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in pursuit? Can man handle the job of God without letting the power corrupt him to his bones? The juxtaposition of the two similar-and-different forms of justice and power pose big questions about the nature, role, and omniscience of divinity and justice (both man-made and heavenly types) for stark metaphoric and cerebral weight between-the-lines of this tale of guns & mobsters.

Visual Tone, Mise-En-Scene, & Score

A Diversely-Shot, Dread-Soaked, Hyper-Violent Stroke Of Nonverbalization & Absorption Into Criminal Underworlds

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The Godfather is equally a masterclass in sensory nonverbalization – certainly not leaving cinematography, mise-en-scene, score, and aesthetics on-the-backburner. The cinematography by Gordon Willis is sublime, working together with masterpiece set design, location shooting, and a show-not-tell hyper-violence motif to adorn this mafia tale with the *perfect* backdrop paralleling its themes and establishing feel. Plenty of plush, swanky, mahogany-lined backrooms and home offices rich with cigar smoke, brandy, and masculinity juxtapose expansive, sweeping shots of diverse locations ranging from floral wedding displays to after-hours Bronx restaurants to film noir-ic back alleys to palatial Hollywood mansions to neon-lit Vegas to rustic villas in the sweeping hills and cobblestone streets of Sicily. The settings mix together to coax our senses into a warm, melting smoothness and comfort in visual decadence – only to be sharply interrupted by ghastly splices of violence and death intricately-shot in their unspeakable wickedness to shock and surprise us at any point we might be starting to feel too comfortable, mimicking the character’s pervasive culture of fear and paranoia by nature of the system you can’t be caught ‘slipping’ in. The consistent utilization of graphic dissolves from one scene to the next make the film’s events feel like one big singular, fluid canvas that fools your senses into a hypnotic complacency, forcing us to remain vigilant for a beautifully-restless experience. Nino Rota’s score is brilliant in its own right, toting ominous harmonics, gentle string quartets, ringing piva hits reminiscent of traditional Italy, and inventive use of diegetic sound crescendoing during its biggest violent moments: like right before the Sollozzo assassination and baptism sequence they both get deafening in right before the impending carnage to wake you up and signal the preeminent loss of life. The overall sensory package The Godfather presents is as thorough and addictive of one as I can remember, together with the screenplay and performances absorbing you into the film in a way I’ve never elsewhere found something like it to this day.

A Legacy That Changed Moviemaking

A Film No One Expected To Work: Painting The Mafia From A Different Perspective; A New Film Era Of Darkness & Globalization

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The course of cinematic history and landscape of American pop culture was titled on its axis when The Godfather released back on March 24, 1972. On paper, the film should not have worked; Coppola had been viewed as sort of a poser-director producing countless box office duds with half-assed feel beforehand, Brando was seen as a has-been whose glory years were well-behind him, Puzo’s novel was dismissed as pulp fiction despite its New York Times-bestseller status, and the cast made up of complete unknowns – including Coppola’s own sister Talia Shire in a peripheral role. Despite all of this festering negativity, The Godfather was able to capture cinematic magic by changing the rules of cinema and Hollywood moviemaking – a cynical/critical analysis of the (fleeting) American dream for a morally-decaying youth losing faith it that hit perfectly in the time where the U.S. was embroiled in darkness like Vietnam and Watergate. It changed the way Italians and Italian-Americans were portrayed on film and in Hollywood – less stereotypical mozzarella-mongering and more as fully-realized, capable people with important stories and experiences to add to the screen. It reinvented the mafia genre itself – analyzing and painting the system from the inside gangster’s perspective as a necessary response to a corrupt society instead of previous perspectives of incensed bystanders and outward gazes on the system of previous entries. Finally, it changed the star system of Hollywood history and proof-of-concepted the groundbreaking idea that you didn’t need previous stars to carry a film; you could make your own cinematic legends – even ~50 years later, Al Pacino is starring in two of the 2019’s biggest films: The Irishman & Joker. The Godfather captured on-screen a dark portrait of American life thorough in its thematizations and bold innovations that stands the test of time as one of – if not THE greatest work of American art ever.


One Of The Greatest Films Of All-Time

A Flawlessly-Directed, Scripted, & Acted Masterpiece On Cultural Experience, Power, Mafioso Underworlds, & Organized Crime

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The Godfather – in summation – is one of the greatest films in cinematic history. It showcased mafia violence in a bold never-before-seen way: from an inside gangster’s perspective as a necessary response – striking violence and all – to a morally-corrupt society and broken American Dream, released at a perfect time when a new generation of U.S. youths witnessed real-world darkness & cynicism in Watergate and Vietnam. It changed the rules of Hollywood moviemaking, showing you could take a cast of unknowns and maligned literary work and make a film that stands the test of time. It cured the pervasive negative stigmas against and stereotypes of Italians on-screen, bursting with authenticism and cultural majesty helmed by a real Italian-American director unapologetically prideful in celebrating his people’s breathtaking traditions & culture. It is one of the most complex and harrowing portrayals of violence and family power ever filmed to this day ~50+ years later – perhaps the greatest work of American art and pop culture ever released. One of the Greatest Films of All-Time, Coppola’s multi-generational crime saga masterpiece on Mario Puzo’s novel in 1940’s NYC is a flawlessly directed, acted, & scripted tale of power, betrayal, justice, and the legacy of a family.

Official CLC Score: 10/10