The Godfather Trilogy
May 12, 2003
Francis Ford Coppola,
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, Bridget Fonda, Sofia Coppola, Lee Strasberg, John Cazale, Joe Mantegna, Eli Wallach, ,
There are times I feel that I’ve just simply seen too many films. Particularly bad films, the kind of film that just saps your enthusiasm for it all. I’d convinced myself that I liked bad movies, that I actually derived enjoyment from watching them. I had to, there were so few decent films being made that my time was always spent with third rate, fourth rate and over rated rubbish.
Which is why it’s such a rare pleasure to review something like the Godfather Trilogy. No more garbage, no more over rated crap, these are the godfathers of film. This is the Godfather Trilogy.
Presented in a black leather effect case this trilogy of great movies has style and presence pouring from every one of its five DVDs. Seven hundred and ten minutes of power, betrayal and murder wrapped up in a truly superb box set.
Made in 1972 the Godfather tells the story of Vito Corleone, his family and their uneasy co-existence with the other Dons.
The eldest of the Corleone brothers, Sonny – played by James Caan is a very hot-tempered and wants to eliminate the remaining Dons.
Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone, the godfather, has become the famous trademark of the film. Often imitated, never bettered. During his career Brando has put in some memorable performances, Last Tango in Paris, The Wild One and Apocalypse Now but it is for the Godfather that he will be remembered.
Brando auditioned for the role without saying a word. With boot polish around his eyes and cotton wool filling his mouth he sat drinking coffee in a darkened room. That was all that was required to convince the filmmakers that he was their godfather.
The film centres on Don Corleone’s near fatal wounding in a mob hit, and his family’s struggle for survival as their enemies close in. The eldest son Sonny (James Caan) wants to strike out when others advise caution. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) wants no involvement with his family’s criminal activities, but the apparent loss of his father and the needs of his family force him to embrace that which he tries to deny. He is a Corleone and his future is at the head of the family. The final scene of the film shows the passing of power to the new Don, and the next chapter in the saga is predestined.
The Godfather part II
The second instalment in the trilogy sees Michael Corleone as the new Don, head of the Corleone family endeavouring to steer his family towards legitimate business ventures. Unfortunately he finds this very hard to do, and the crime certainly doesn’t want to let him go. Faced with the threat of mob war and assassination, it’s the betrayal from one of his own family that hurts him most. The constant analogy to Roman history gives this second instalment the greatest power of the three films, and the most tragic of conclusions as Michael realises what he must do.
Godfather part II uses a split narrative and also tells the tale of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone’s arrival in New York when he was just nine years old. He was forced to leave Corleone when Don Cicero murdered his father, mother, and brother. He adopted the name Corleone, his real name being Vito Andolini, purely because that was written on the tag around his neck when he arrived in New York.
This is where Robert De Niro takes over as Vito, and proceeds to build his reputation on the streets of New York.
Feeding his family is his first aim, but then he realises he has a skill for it, even a relish. This culminates in his return to Corleone and meeting once again with ageing Don Cicero.
Godfather part II does what so few films manage to achieve, the sequel that surpasses the original. This is the greatest gangster film ever made, and the strongest of the Godfather movies. De Niro is wonderful, if under used and Pacino puts in possibly the finest performance of his career.
The Godfather part III
Godfather part III has come under much criticism over the years, and much of it warranted. It was always going to get mixed reviews being the first Godfather for over a decade, much the same as Star Wars Episode I. It didn’t matter whether it was actually any good or not, the critics wanted to show their appreciation for the originals and state that nothing could compare to them. So Godfather part III was up against it from the start, and this wasn’t helped by it’s female lead falling ill. Winona Ryder was originally supposed to play the role of Michael Corleone’s daughter but her problems at the time forced her to pull out.
Her replacement was the director’s own daughter – Sofia Coppola. Unfortunately she didn’t have the acting ability to hold her own on the screen with Andy Garcia, and as their love story formed the focal point to the film this proved a great problem for the Godfather part III.
The other problem for the film centred on its star, Al Pacino. Once a great actor he somehow lost a lot of his subtlety and intensity through the Nineteen Eighties. The Al Pacino that appears in Godfather part III is a parody of the actor he once was, reduced to over acting and shouting his lines where a more measured performance was called for.
This decline in Pacino is a complete mystery because in his early career he showed that he had the talent and desire to be one of the most influential actors in world cinema.
These two flaws in the film however in no way detract from its significance. The Godfather part III draws to a close the powerful and compelling saga of the Corleone family, and finishes the tale with a Greek tragedy inspired climax. Michael Corleone wants to leave the life that he has built. The killing, betrayal and mistrust are things he no longer wishes to be a part of. However he doesn’t want to name a successor that will once again plunge the family into war.
Andy Garcia puts in a powerhouse performance, as Corleone’s would be successor, comparable to Pacino himself in the first film. Hopefully Garcia will now build on this start to his career and not be tempted to put in lazy performances such as those given recently by Pacino.
Godfather part III may be the weaker of the trilogy, but it’s still head and shoulders ahead of anything else in its genre. Remember that it’s being judged against two of the greatest films ever made by a master director. The grandeur of its production and climax make it a worthy addition to the Godfather saga.
This is by far the best DVD box set currently available; the quality of the films themselves and of the presentation has yet to be surpassed. It was a rare pleasure to review such a DVD and I fear I may never find anything that comes close.