Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)

Everybody talks about The Godfather as some of the greatest films ever made, so naturally I thought it was in my interest as a film buff to sit down and watch them sometime, although you might be surprised to learn that it's taken me this long to do so. I had noticed The Godfather being played on television on Thanksgiving in years past, and this year I was watching a lot of movies in the wake of Halloween season, so I figured it was a great time to finally watch The Godfather trilogy, and see what all the hype was about.

And I won't go on for very long, because I'm not some obsessed Godfather fanboy, I'm just gonna tell you my opinion of the movies. I think they were very good movies - I definitely can't say I hated them, or that they sucked. However, I do think they are overhyped. Greatest movie(s) of all time? Dunno about that. I was actually expecting more gangster brutality from the series, but I had a revelation after watching them that explained to me why these movies are popular for Thanksgiving. It's because the Godfather isn't really about gangsters, it's about family.

And that's actually what I thought was most intriguing about the first Godfather movie. Especially given his reputation in our social culture, I was expecting The Godfather to be this really intimidating guy - and there's a hint of that in the excellent opening scene. But I was wondering, how is this movie going to make me sympathize with a mob boss - a guy who goes around having people whacked and dealing in criminal enterprise? And the answer is, well, they made The Godfather this really reasonable guy, who above all values his family, and honors the people who show him respect. A guy who doesn't really see himself as a 'murderer' so much as a businessman, and who makes a point not to mix business with personal issues.

I would have liked to have seen more of Marlon Brando as The Godfather throughout the series. He was excellent. I think Al Pacino is a fine actor, but as The Godfather's son, who eventually takes over the family, he just wasn't as charismatic as Marlon Brando. People talk about his fantastic acting performance in The Godfather movies, and maybe he was good, but I don't know, he just didn't have the charisma. I think he was a lot more interesting in Scarface, for example. And, this is a weird quirk, but I couldn't help thinking that in this role, the young Al Pacino looked at times strangely like Adam Sandler. I don't kow, maybe it's just me.

A lot of people say The Godfather Part II is better than the first part, and a perfect masterpiece of cinema. I don't know that I would agree. The theme of Part II seems to be Al Pacino's character's journey as new head of the Corleone family, in which everything pretty much goes wrong and he ends up inadvertently tearing the family apart. It's a very sad story, almost in the vein of classical Greek tragedy, and for that reason it's surprising I didn't like it even more than the first part, because I love a good tragedy.

But I think the first movie really shines, partly because of Marlon Brando's performance, and how it sort of introduces you to this world of the mafia, and also because it shows the transformation in Al Pacino's character. He starts out as the one son of The Godfather who isn't interested in the family business - a "civilian" as his brothers put it - but who gets pulled in when the family's enemies put a hit on the Don. The scene where he meets the two guys for dinner, to make a deal regarding the protection of his father in the hospital, was so tense - in this case, Al Pacino's acting was definitely top notch. I could feel the anxiety of the scene - the fear that he would be found out and killed before he could kill his enemies was palpable.

So I actually liked Part I better than Part II, and wouldn't say that Part II is the "best sequel of all time", and certainly not "the best movie ever made". As for Part III, there's definitely a break in continuity as it was filmed in 1990 while the other two came back to back in the '70s. But where people love to lambaste the third part (almost like how I consider Alien: Resurrection to not exist), I didn't think it was that bad. And it does do a good job of wrapping up the series, by finishing the telling of the tale of Michael Corleone. And maybe it's because I didn't think Part I and Part II were so good in the first place, that the fact that Part III is maybe not as well put together doesn't stand out so much to me.

So there you have it. I'll reiterate that I actually liked the movies, and thought they were very good. (If a little long, being a three part series clocking in at around 9 hours all together). But I do think they're a tad overhyped, as I didn't find them to be, without a doubt, the greatest movies I'd ever seen, and not among my top favorites either. But then again, gangster movies - though I do enjoy a good one - aren't personally my favorite genre. Oh, and you know, people talk about how movies like this "glorify" the mafia. Actually, this story is pretty tragic, but rather than glorify the mafia, I thought it was interesting because it actually humanizes the mafia. For better or worse. There are other films out there that do much worse in terms of "glorifying" mob violence.

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