Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Masterpiece Film Series: The Godfather

"The Godfather" **** (out of ****)

The first words we hear in "The Godfather" are heard while the screen is black. They are " I believe in America". In some ways that was what the first two "Godfather" films were about. Family and the American dream. Secondly, it is a mob movie.

Throughout the film we hear Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) speak of the importance of family. At one point he says "a man that doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." Yes, Vito Corleone is a gangster, he has had people killed, but, he believes in family. That of course doesn't mean we should forgive him his sins and overlook his faults but it is part of the brilliance of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's script that they add a human element to these characters. We accept them for what they are yet we can relate to them. Their actions seems justifiable.

And for as good as the script is, credit must also be given to the cast. Marlon Brando's performance as "The Don" is one of his all-time great roles. It is an memorable as his performances in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront". His role here may not be as dominate as those other parts, but that is only because he is sharing screen time with more actors. And what a cast! Has there ever been a more perfect cast in an American film? Every actor carries their weight. We simply cannot picture any other actors in these roles. Al Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone is as culturally significant and indelible in cinema as Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Gene Kelley in "Singin' in the Rain" and Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane.

In addition to all of that, what about Gordon Willis' cinematography? Known for his use of shadows and darkness, here they add and reveal important character traits. These men live in the underworld.Their lives are surrounded by darkness. Some of Willis' most memorable work may be in this film. If not, perhaps only his work in Woody Allen's "Manhattan" could match it.

Even the musical score by Nino Rota, who has worked with legendary Italian filmmakers such as Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti on their respective films such as "8 1\2", "Amarcord" and "The Leopard". Nearly every film he has worked on has had a score that is as memorable of the film itself. Many times, his music makes a particular film. That was clearly the case with "Amarcord". I remember the music more than the film.

"The Godfather" is perhaps the greatest American film ever made. Everything about the film just manages to fall into place. Everything is perfect about it. The performances, the music, the cinematography, the pacing, the editing.

To think Coppola had not had much experience as a director when this film was made, only goes to show his talent. Even he may have never made a better film.

But this review just seems to gush praise at the film. But what else can I say about it? That is why it is one of the masterpieces of cinema.