The Godfather Trilogy
“I believe in America.”
Such was the opening line of arguably one of the greatest movies ever made.
And really. There’s a reason why The Godfather is in every definitive Top 10 list of best films ever made, or The Godfather II won almost every prize there is except the Nobel.
The influence of the film was such that it spurred spin-offs, parodies and pop cultural references from Robert De Niro’s self-parodying Analyze This to The Simpsons. The Godfather had also a hand in the way the Mafiosi were portrayed in later films, and paved the way for more mafia-themed films, movies with a clear sympathetic bent towards the overlords of crime.
The Godfather was released at the time before CG extravaganzas started swamping cineplexes, which is actually quite providential. Had Mario Puzo’s novel been adapted in this century, it would have been dwarfed by CG-reliant films filled with fluff but with no real substance, those CG-reliant abominations involving mutant superheroes, giant tin cans that can transform into cars, or webslingers with responsibility issues.
Instead, the films (especially the first two – the last one is just a sad embarrassment) were released at a simpler time when good ol’ special effects consist of creative make-up and built-in body contraptions meant to simulate bullet shots.
The first film also featured strong performances from Marlon Brando (as Don Vito Corleone), James Caan (hothead son and underboss Santino), Robert De Niro (as young Vito in the flashback scenes in the sequel), Robert Duvall (as consigliere Tom Hagen).
But biggest credit goes to a then unknown Al Pacino playing favoured son Michael, who eventually took over the criminal empire. Here was Pacino at possibly his best, a quiet sinister presence, his big Italian eyes doing much of the acting. This was before Pacino became A-list and effectively established the Chewing-the-Scenery-School-Acting, the kind where he gets to channel your crackpot uncle who seems inclined to shout his lines every five minutes. *SIGH* I miss the old Al.
The trilogy starts with the introduction of the Corleone family headed by Don Vito, an aging patriarch and crime lord controlling much of the criminal activity in New York, who dispenses favours to anybody who recognizes his greatness and willing to pay the favour back by rendering him a little service. And his methods are also rather persuasive, giving especially recalcitrant people “an offer (they) couldn’t refuse.”
The first Godfather movie follows closely the source material. The story is complex and complicated, with as many subplots as there are characters, but it centers mainly on the assassination attempt on the life of Don Vito – widely regarded as the eponymous Godfather – after he refused to share his political influence and police protection to other Families who are entering the narcotics business.
Don Vito’s refusal was taken as an insult by the other bosses, who soon staged an assassination attempt against. This then spurred a war between the families as Michael shot Sollozzo, the man who ordered the hit on Don Vito, and corrupt police officer McCluskey. The war further escalates, leading to the eventual exile of Michael to Sicily and the death of Vito’s hothead son, Santino.
Michael then returns, took over the “family business” that he once so despised, and practically consolidated his power by eliminating all the other rival families, including traitors in his family (bro-in-law Carlo, who fingered Sonny for rival boss Barzini) and caporegime Sal Tessio, who made a deal with Barzini to have Michael assassinated.
The Godfather II
The second movie presents parallel storylines, starting with the backstory of Don Vito, how he came to the US and met the two closest men who would later serve as his caporegimes – Clemenza and Sal Tessio. After killing extortionist and petty boss Don Fanucci, he gained the respect of the people in their community. He then went to the olive oil business, went back to Italy and killed the man who killed his father.
Back in the US, Michael survives an assassination attempt against his life in his Nevada home and was determined to get to the bottom of it. This happened shortly after he revealed his intention to gain control of another casino.
Michael meets with one of his caporegimes Pentangeli, telling him that he believes a gangster by the name of Hyman Roth was responsible for the attempt on his life. He tells Pentangeli to cooperate with the Rosato brothers, whom Roth backs. However, Pentangeli was almost killed by the Rosato Brothers while he was following Michael’s orders.
Michael continues his deal with Roth, though, and the two went to Havana, Cuba to invest right at the eve of the Cuban Revolution. Michael, after some persuasion from Roth, decides to invest and sent for older brother Fredo to bring the money. Later, in a bar, Michael learns that Fredo was in fact the family traitor.
This betrayal embittered Michael as, late in the film, he exacts revenge on the people who tried to cross him, starting with the shooting of Roth, the suicide of Pentangeli (who tried to implicate Michael during a Senate hearing) and the murder of his own brother, Fredo.
The Godfather III
The plot of this inferior follow-up to the two great films largely involves something about the Immobiliare deal, a bankrupt Vatican Bank, and the deaths of John Paul I and Sofia Coppola.
And oh. Andy Garcia as Sonny’s bastard son Vincent, who has Sonny’s temper and Michael’s looks.
And that’s it.
Notes while Watching The Godfather Series:
- Al Pacino was G-R-E-A-T here, particularly in Part 2. Couldn’t see a better performance from the actor. Pacino’s transformation from a naïve war vet to a coldly calculating boss is downright chilly, I swore the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees.
- Michael to Fredo: “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever…” BRRR… Pacino NAILED the line. And to think that the part nearly went to Robert Redford. Miracles do happen.
- Sofia Coppola is a deft director, but watching her act is like undergoing a root canal with a blunt drill. She was that irritating.
- When I grow up, I want to be a mafia lord. That’s part of my bucket list now.
- John Cazale played Fredo, the dim-witted older brother Fredo. In Dog Day Afternoon, he played Al Pacino’s dim-witted criminal partner. I’m looking for a movie where he’s playing a dim-witted murderous transvestite or something like that.
- Is it just me or does Fredo look like Jim Henson Muppet, Gonzo the Great?
- “I will make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” I would LOOOOVE the opportunity to say that to somebody.
- He was Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Antony, Jor-el and The Godfather. Marlon Brando could’ve easily been the Greatest Actor ever after Laurence Olivier. Unfortunately, he was also Dr Moreau.
- Kay Adams left because she could not deal with the fact that she was married to evil, and that she was bringing more evil to the world. Well, who did she think she was married to? The Pope?
- 10. Andy Garcia is H-O-T.