The Godfather series is about the Corleone family and how crime allowed them to live the American dream and eventually torn them apart. It also shows how reluctant son Michael is poisoned by power. The series has one of the most beloved sequels, with many, including myself, finding the second film the strongest in the trilogy, as well as having one of the most hated sequels in film history. Coppola saga is beautifully shot, with some of the greatest film actors of all-time giving the most acclaimed performance of their careers, with a script that I quote to my husband on a regular basis.
When we first meet Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), he is a solider returning home with his new girlfriend (Diane Keaton) to attend his sister’s wedding. Michael warns Kay about his family, but promises he is different. By the end of the third film, Michael has lost everything: Kay, his son, his daughter has been killed, and he was responsible for the deaths of his brother-in-law and brother. Over the course of decades, we watch him become further and further tainted by the power his role as head of Corleone family has given him. The young man who was so appalled by his father’s actions, because far more of a monster than his father ever was.
Vito Corleone may be one of greatest roles of all-time. Two of the most respected actors in film history, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, won Oscars for their portrayals of the crime family head. In the first film, Brando gives The Godfather a sweetness to him that explains the loyalty his followers. In the second film we see Vito immigrate to America after his parents are murdered. He starts his family but finds his opportunities sparse as the community is run by The Black Hand. Vito tracks The Black Hand and kills him in one of the most beautifully shot sequences in all of film. As we watch his rise to power, we see his family grow and it is clear that everything he has done was for his children, to provide them with opportunities he did not have. As an old man, he tells Michael he could have been anything, he could have gotten out of “the family business” and that was what he wanted for him when he chose a life of crime for himself.
The rest of the Corleone kids are nothing to be too proud of. Sonny allows his anger to get the best of him until he is murdered in the mob war he helped escalate. Connie is a spoiled brat who throws a very expensive and lengthy temper tantrum when Michael has her abusive husband killed. And Fredo, oh poor, sweet Fredo, is just plain dumb and hurts the family more than he helps. The scene where Michael confronts Fredo about his involvement in an attempt on Michael’s life is one of my favorites. Fredo insisting he could have run the family and was unfairly passed over is so sad. He wants to do great things but is held back by a lack of intelligence. This is something film rarely highlights, favoring the super competent.
Let’s talk about the Corleone women for a second. For a film about the importance of family, the mother is pretty much a non-entity. Connie is an interesting character who is a slave to her emotions as she pushes the family away and pulls them to her when it’s suits her. I feel bad making fun of Sofia Coppola in the third film. She was cast at the last minute when Winona Rider came down with pneumonia when traveling to the set. I really don’t think Rider could have made the character less painful. And then there’s Kay.
The first few times I watched these movies, I couldn’t remember Diane Keaton was in them. She’s such an odd fit, but I guess Kay is an odd fit on the Corleone family. And she’s given some godawful dialogue. I always giggle during the scene where she tells Michael she’s leaving him because she actually attempts to out shout Pacino! As if anybody could.
One scene that always stood to me is when Michael visits Kay after returning to America. He tells her he wants her back, even though he admittedly waited a while to contact her. And Kay takes him back! It seems like she waited patiently for him to return while he was busying marrying the first woman he saw in Italy (and I’m sure he told her all about that before their wedding). And the odd thing about the scene is that she’s leading a bunch of children somewhere, so he stops her while she’s at work as a teacher to tell her he’s back and wants to marry her. It’s such a strange display of male dominance.
I’ve never been able to get through the third film. I tried but I find Michael’s son wanting to be an opera singer unbelievable, I find his daughter seducing her cousin creepy, and the Vatican stuff is boring. We really didn’t need the third film.
The Godfather is one of those must watch films. They really don’t make the like this anymore. It has this truly epic feel due to the muted cinematography and the superb score. If you haven’t seen it, your opinions on film will really never be taken seriously 😉
Michael: IN MY BEDROOM WHERE MY WIFE SLEEPS! Where my children come to play with their toys.