In 1972 director Francis Ford Coppola graced the screen with his cinematic masterpiece, The Godfather. Based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, The Godfather focuses on the Corleone crime family, led by Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), following the end of WWII. The film is an undeniable influential piece of cinema, filled with unforgettable quotes, scenes, and characters.
Marlon Brando plays the iconic soft-spoken crime boss affectionately called, “The Godfather,” a role that has been referenced and parodied countless times in other works. From the whispered voice to the kitten in his arms, Don Corleone is one of cinema’s greatest characters. He is admirable due to his wisdom and fairness, which is why he feels like a hero, despite his villainous nature. If there is one thing that the audience can take away from the character of Vito Corleone, it is that he cares for nothing more than his family, and that deserves all the respect in the world.
Although Brando’s work is iconic, the actor who holds the role of protagonist is Al Pacino. Pacino stars as Michael Corleone, a WWII veteran and youngest son of the Corleone’s, who has recently returned to his home following the end of the war. Michael is reluctant to join the family business of crime, instead wanting to live a legitimate life with Kay Adams (played by Diane Keaton). It isn’t until Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (played by Al Lettieri) has Vito gunned down due to complications in a business deal that Michael swears his allegiance to his father. Michael’s journey is ultimately the heart of the film. His transition from War Hero, to a newly baptized Mafia member is the driving force of the picture.
Other characters include oldest son Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James Cann), middle son Frederico “Fredo” Corleone (John Cazale), and adopted son Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). Sonny is the hot-headed child who is always ready for a fight, whether or not he’ll win. Fredo is the screw-up of the family, therefore he is usually uninvolved in their affairs. Tom Hagen, who was taken in as a young boy by Vito, serves as consigliere to “The Godfather.” Duvall’s portrayal of Hagen is just as iconic and likeable as Brando or Pacino’s performances. Hagen is the brains of the organization and is very essential to not only the family’s success, but also the success of the film.
The films soundtrack by composer Nino Rota provides an eerie backdrop for the film. It jumps between celebratory wedding music to unsettling tracks that accent onscreen murders. Cinematographer Gordon Willis also helps deepen the film by introducing the characters to dark interiors, which only allows more attention to their shining faces. This allows the audience to find a sense of morality in the characters who are able to rise above the darkness, or at times fall straight into it.
One of the greatest aspects of the film is its theme of family. The Corleone’s are nothing without their family. One of the most chilling lines in the film is when Michael warns Fredo about stepping out of line by stating “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you, but don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.” This quote has so much wait that is even further explored in the sequel, but for now only hints at the lengths that Michael will go to protect the ones he loves.
Coppola manages to direct a giant cast in a three-hour long movie, but it still manages to never feel crowded or like it’s dragging. Not only is the film entertaining, but it presents the evolution of a man, all the while portraying the turmoil that can engulf a number of people. Coppola’s The Godfather is an excellent piece of film and landed itself a respectable place in cinema history.