The Godfather (1972)

I’m not an expert on how the rankings on IMDb are calculated, but if you take a look at the ratings for the best films you can see long stretches of similar score averages towards the bottom of the list (anything above an 8.0 out of 10 stands a good chance of making it onto the list), with each division growing shorter and shorter as you move up the list. Then, as you hit the top, there’s a big jump for The Godfather – which is understandable, as it’s a film of nearly-universal acclaim. I read Mario Puzo’s novel a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely, but I was curious as to what made the material such excellent fodder for film, and I was never able to garner exactly why The Godfather routinely was called the greatest film ever made from the way it’s mentioned among film critics. So now I’ve finally seen it, the most glaring omission in a film-lovers required viewing rectified, and I’m going to join the chorus of people who sings its praises without being able to nail down specifically what makes it so amazing.

The story is about the transfer of power from aging crime boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) to his reluctant son Michael (Al Pacino). Unlike nearly every other film about the Mafia that shows up in the Top 250, the film has very little to do with the inner workings or organised crime; it’s more about a family than the family, a familial drama writ large. It’s easy to look at the film and find threads of commentary on the change of generations, the violence that lies under a veneer of civility, the different faces of masculinity, all this and more, but the real reason the film is so accredited has nothing to do with its content. The opening sequence, the wedding, fills up over a half-hour yet never feels slow. The whole film is over three hours and yet you could easily watch more. The dramatic moments are subtle and the subtle moments an imperceptible part of the whole experience. The Godfather may be the crowning achievement of the push for greater realism in 1970s cinema: it feels like watching life, only a better version of it with more interesting situations and a clean narrative arc. Its greatness is self-evident, a film of such undeniable quality of craft that even attempting to dissect it seems pointless.

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