‘The Godfather’ Review: Calling In a Favor

Posted in Screening Room by - February 12, 2016

What do you say about one of the most celebrated and well-reviewed films of all time that hasn’t already been said? What kind of chutzpah does it take to step up to that plate and say, “I’ve never seen this classic before, but here’re my two cents”? Hell, with a movie as important as The Godfather, how can a critic even begin to piece apart such a storied legacy?

Well, here I am, folks, to do all that and more.

It’s no secret that The Godfather is not only one of the most influential films of all time but also one of the most widely beloved. The original and its sequel consistently land in top five movie lists from all sorts of reviewers and publications, so it’s strange to come at something so legendary for the first time so late in life. Trying to view the ’72 classic from a fresh lens in 2016 is an almost insurmountable task, not only attempting to avoid what’s already been said but also to keep from blundering about and missing the finer details – it is, after all, nearly three hours of condensed film artistry.

For those equally uninitiated, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone family in the wake of the Second World War. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) survives an attempt on his life while trying to negotiate the new world of drug running, as his family has historically only worked in lesser vices, such as gambling rings. On the brink of open mafia war, Don Corleone begins to train his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino) to take over the family business, a role which the young war hero is slow to fully assume.

The Godfather rides a fine line at every moment, balancing between true art and pulp adventure, intricate ploys and a simple story, a drawn-out examination of the human psyche and the perfect length for tension and drama. Where other films may feel bloated at just around two hours, The Godfather skims by an extra 60 minutes and narrowly holds even modern attention with only negligible slip-ups. All the while, it’s difficult to tell if Coppola was ruling with an iron fist, strategically placing every player and shot, or simply allowing the narrative to film itself at its most authentic leisure. And it’s just these bits of teetering moments where one is unsure of the artifice of the work that really elevate the film to its lauded pedestal.

To call the film “meticulous” is a disservice, as the piece rarely feels blatantly orchestrated. Every actor is on point, to such a degree that some scenes feel relaxed as if they were simply day-to-day interactions. Angles and cuts are thoughtfully created, yes, but they are rarely as intrusive as to be noted – all of which serve to better highlight the skill of those involved, upon reflection.

That is not to say that The Godfather is an altogether engaging film – in fact, in many ways, it seems to want to push the viewer away, keep them from the same path that Michael appears to be ever falling towards. By no means an out-and-out action flick, it feels equally at home allowing the audience moments of violence and high-energy parsed throughout somber moments of contemplation and simple conversation. It’s a movie that requires its viewers to take their time but promises that the investment never is wasted.

It’s precisely this deft artistry, this storied history, which makes The Godfather such a difficult movie not only to review but simply to engage after so many years. It is at once a quintessential hallmark of the art form while also standing in stark contrast to its common structures. It is neither a passive event nor a grand spectacle. Instead, this Oscar-winning titan is a work which, like its leading Don, demands fearsome respect. Its means may be uncouth, it may question the world we take for granted, it may call upon us to reflect upon ourselves in a way we find nigh-unbearable, but The Godfather is truly a film which cannot be refused by any who claim to study and love the world of film.

Final Verdict: Watch It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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