The first time I saw The Godfather, I didn’t know why it was so great. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the film or didn’t comprehend the artistic depth this cinematic masterpiece delivered. It just left me puzzled, perplexed, as to what exactly drew me in so deeply. Upon viewing it a second time and after some thought, I realized no other movie in recent memory offered the following: a deep, detailed storyline without a need to pour over the details in order to comprehend the depth; abundant spectacular performances as believable as this; and a broad pallette of cinematic techniques, weaving the themes through all of them. Basically, they don’t make them like this anymore.
The ensemble cast of mobsters and cops, Corleones and civilians, and mothers and children, are freed from the burden of extraneous roles such as pirates and warlocks. And as the protaganists and important characters are all actually criminals, no actor is stuck in a simplistic role on either side of the fence that divides hero/villain. Each person in the film has motives, real reason behind their actions, real purpose. All of this is self contained in each scene. Each actor shines all on their own here. There’s Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Talia Shire, and most of all Marlon Brando. These names are the biggest of the big. However, in this most brilliant of universes, they are not Pacino and Brando but Michael, Don Vito, Sonny, and Tom Hagen. The Godfather is truly a fascinating little world. It comprises its own universe.
This has to be said: even next to the other career-best performances from the cast of The Godfather, I have never since seen a performance in film greater than the one Marlon Brando pulls off here. The man executes what is simply a flawless, haunting portrayal. His voice appears to not be that of an actor, but that of a sickly old man upheld solely by power. The pauses of deep thought, and the meaningful warnings are those of a wise Don. The respect commanded by this man is not because of his fame and A-list status, but because of the things he’s done in the underworld and the things he can very easily do.
The Godfather truly plays more like real life than a movie. It uses music, yes, but doesn’t need filler scenes just as an excuse to play some Top 40 hit in the background. It uses violence and blood, but these acts take you by surprise, just as the great Luca Brasi is caught by surprise and strangled death. It even uses tools rarely utilized today, such as strong story resonance through the use of symbolism. The title is both unforgettable and of essential relevance to the plot. The themes are powerful without becoming presumptuous.
However, the crux of realism in The Godfather is not that the events likely occurred in reality. It is that the flow and presentation comes across as completely organic. Shock value here becomes like suspense in most movies of this ilk, while suspense itself is only granted to the viewer when it is granted to the characters. Ranking consistently within the top two or three movies ever made, often called the greatest movie of all time, The Godfather is a must-see. If you have yet to the peerless masterwork, then consider this an offer you can’t refuse.