Overview: In a film that many— including this reviewer — hail as one of the best movies ever made, The Godfather tells the outward struggle of a 1940s Mafia family trying to defend their empire from rival families, and the inward struggle they face as the family’s leadership is forced to shift gradually from father to son. 1972; Rated R; 178 minutes.
Sexy Pacing: This film works as well as it does for more reasons that I can probably even appreciate — the acting is pitch-perfect, the writing is sharp, the cinematography is awe-inspiring, the music is dramatic and fitting — but what really gets me is the pacing. The Godfather takes a deliberate, sexy approach to its story. (Yes, I did just call the pacing in The Godfather sexy, and you better believe I’ll stick to that statement.) This film takes its time. With a run time of nearly three hours, it is subtle and sometimes even quite slow in its realness. We see these characters in interesting, intense moments and in everyday, mundane moments. We see them chatting in the kitchen, having a pleasant meal. We see them doubting themselves and fearing for the future. Because these people never appear as stereotypes, it is easy to feel engaged and invested in their lives. By the end, we are all Corleones, or at least we’re close to the family, and we deeply feel everything that they feel.
The Corleones: It’s easy to see a representation of the classic American dream in this family of immigrants who came from nothing and with devoted family values, hard work, and careful, intelligent discipline have worked their way into power. They represent everything that is right in America ‑ the chance for anyone to be someone — and everything that is wrong. The Corleones are brutally ruthless in their quest to keep position in the Mafia world. They will threaten, attack, and kill whomever they need to in order to rise above, and as viewers, we will likely let it all slide because this is the American dream, after all. By putting a spotlight on this fundamental American ideal and its flaws, The Godfather isn’t just important from a filmmaking standpoint; it’s important from a cultural one as well. This film made a lasting impact on so much of the art and culture that followed it. Watch any modern TV show and still, still, you can find quotes from and obvious references to The Godfather. The Godfather is everywhere, and it probably always will be.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words: I can’t go without briefly discussing another of The Godfather’s greatest strengths: the fact that it doesn’t rely on dialogue to say everything. As a director, Francis Ford Coppola clearly understands the power of body language and actions. Often in The Godfather certain things seem just on the tip of characters’ tongues, yet they keep silent. And that silence speaks louder than any words ever could. In the film’s final scene, the closing of a door says more than a passionate, screaming fight would be able to. As Kay watches the door close on Michael, the look on her face says it all. She doesn’t believe what he has told her, even if she acts like she does. To her dismay, she doesn’t even know who Michael is anymore. She’s lost him, and she knows it. As the door closes between Kay and Michael, their relationship seems to be closing off as well. Sure, they might stay together in a literal sense, but they’ve lost something important, some trust and openness that they might have once had. Michael is gone, replaced by the man that he was gradually becoming throughout the entire film. The Godfather at its core is a subdued and intelligent study of the evolution of one man, of Michael. The final scene reaches the end of that evolution and literally and figuratively closes the door on it. Another great element of this scene that demands discussion is the camera placement. By showing both Kay and Michael, in different rooms and in different focuses, Coppola reiterates the emotional space between the two. Coppola places the camera expertly throughout the film, and through that careful placement he uses filmmaking itself as another wordless tool of expression for the characters.
In Closing: Of course The Godfather deserves a spot among the greats. Its lasting impression on film and society can be seen all over the place. It is one of the richest, strongest, most deliberate films ever made, and honestly, it might just be the very best.