Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Classic Films: "The Godfather" Trilogy

Francis Ford Coppola's classic films The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are considered by many to be two of the most influential films ever made. Part I was voted the second greatest film of all-time (behind Citizen Kane [1942]) by the American Film Institute in 2007, and Part II is regarded as one of the great movie sequels (along with The Empire Strikes [1980]). The 5-Disc DVD collection (released in 2001) of all three films, as well as bonus material with behind-the-scenes footage, is guaranteed ideal for many film buffs. Yet, the best way to rank it is to rank each film.

The Godfather (1972)
The first and best, superbly-acted and executed, with issues of justice, heritage, and power, as they related to a Mafia family dynasty in the 1940s, headed by Don Vito Corleane (an iconic performance by Marlon Brando). Creates many levels of Hitchcock-esque suspense and intensity, especially during the restaurant and hospital scenes. Other standout moments include the horse's head and the climactic baptism sequence (with Coppola's infant daughter, Sofia, at the time). That being said, one needs to be reminded that this is a violent film, as it is about gangsters and therefore violent men.

The best bonus feature is director Coppola's notebook, explaining the process of writing and adapting Mario Puzo's novel for the film adaption. (A must for film students and buffs.)

Overall: 4/5 stars

The Godfather Part II (1972)
Darker and more violent follow-up--and longer, running 3 hours 20 minutes--as it deals, this time, with issues of betrayal, revenge, and manipulation, as well as further issues of power and heritage. Michael Corleane's character is stronger and, in some ways, an improvement. The film is influential in the way it juxtaposes the continuing present story of Michael while also explaining his father Vito Corleane's background and history. In fact, the film's best moments take place in the early 20th century with a young Vito (one of Robert DeNiro's best career performances). The tracking shot between DeNiro on the rooftop and Don Fanucci on the streets is spellbinding. Also watch for a moment in the play scene that illustrates the idea of Corleane husbands closing the doors of their business from their wives (as Michael does to Kay [Diane Keaton] in the first film). The film begins and ends well, but ultimately descends into tragedy and blindness in terms of Michael's role and impact on those around him, including his family.

Overall: 3/5 stars

The Godfather Part III (1990)
Disappointing third installment unworthy to first two films (like most sequels). In this final chapter, Michael Corleane, as played by Al Pacino, tries to redeem himself of his past, but is pulled back into it, thanks in part to his trigger-happy nephew Vincent (an Oscar-nominated performance by Andy Garcia). Pacino is good, but fans have supposedly argued that it wasn't the Michael they remember from the first two films (as director Coppola notes on the DVD commentary). Garcia and Joe Mantegna have their worthy moments, too. In addition, Coppola's daughter, Sofia, was criticized for her performance of Michael's daughter, Mary. The issues of religion, politics, heroism, relationships, and redemption are a bit much, but the intensity in the second half is well done. However, there are moments in the film that are just too graphic for me to watch and recommend. (The violence here seems more Die Hard than Godfather.) Nevertheless, consequences (whatever they mean) are evident in characters, thereby concluding this violent and tragic trilogy.

Overall: 2.5/5 stars

Overall, The Godfather is what it is, but is not for everyone (for obvious reasons involving violence and crime and such). I don't consider myself a fan, but in terms of the first two films' technical and acting achievements, they will continue to be talked about in film classes, critics' "Best Films" lists, and so many others in years to come.

If you have any opinions on these films, good or bad, feel free to comment below. (After all, films aren't just for merely "watching".)

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