The Godfather (R)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
I must say, after finally seeing this movie in 2012, having wanted to see it for many years... I thought it was a very good film, but not exactly one I liked quite as much as I probably should. There was a time when I used to give some of my reviews two ratings, one for my enjoyment and one for my estimation of its quality. And this is the kind of film that makes me wish I was still doing that, because I definitely appreciated its quality more than I actually enjoyed it. I ask you to take that into consideration when looking at the rating I did give it... but also remember, while it's not a movie I loved, I feel I've still given it a solid, respectable rating. (But my opinion of its quality, while higher than my rating suggests, is still surely just a bit lower than most people's opinion.) Oh, I almost forgot to mention... the movie's based on a book by Mario Puzo, which I've never read. And in fact the opening title screen said "Mario Puzo's The Godfather," but neither the DVD case nor anything I've seen online seems to indicate that the author's name should be taken as being part of the title....
Anyway... I want to try to avoid too many spoilers, though that may be difficult to do, and still give any real sense of what the movie is about. Um... it starts on the day Connie Corleone is marrying Carlo Rizzi. There's a very big wedding, with tons of family and guests. Connie's father, Vito, is conducting a series of meetings with various people who ask him for favors. (Vito is godfather to one person who asks a favor, and I think to the child of someone else who asks a favor.) We quickly learn that he's the don of a powerful Mafia family in New York City. Aside from Connie, his other children include Santino "Sonny" Corleone, Michael Corleone, and an informally adopted son named Tom Hagen. As I said, the movie starts in 1945, and Michael has just returned from the war. He brings with him a girlfriend named Kay Adams, whom he tells about his family business, but says he wants no part of it. (His father also doesn't want Michael getting involved; he wants a better life for him.) But Sonny is an underboss in the Corleone crime family, who is supposed to eventually succeed Vito as don. And Tom is a lawyer who represents the family, and also serves as Vito's consigliere (advisor). Tom is certainly much smarter and more level-headed than Sonny. Oh, I forgot to mention another son of Vito's, Fredo Corelone. Fredo is kind of... well anyway, not very important to the story. I guess he's involved in the family business, but not in any serious way, as far as I could tell (and there's a reason for that). There are also a few mobsters who work for the family, including capos named Sal Tessio and Peter Clemenza, and an enforcer named Luca Brasi.
There are some things that happen, which basically seem to be in the story just to give us a sense of the kind of things the Corlones do, which is not pleasant, of course. (This includes one very disturbing scene which I'd heard of, but never fully understood the significance of until seeing the movie.) But the main plotline is initiated by a drug lord named Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo asking Don Corleone for help... he wanted an investment, as well as political protection from politicians who were in Vito's pocket. But he refused, not liking the increasing prominence of narcotics in the business of the various crime families. Also, he believed that the politicians who were willing to look the other way in regards to some of the more traditional vices the Mafia exploited, would not be so lenient in regards to drugs. Um... anyway, I guess Sollozzo was involved with one of the other families, the Tattaglias, and Vito's refusal of help instigated an escalating conflict between the Corleones and the Tattaglias, with Vito himself eventually being targeted for assassination. Though he wasn't killed (which is pretty remarkable), he was incapacitated for some time, and Sonny took over. And eventually, Michael himself decided to take revenge against Sollozzo and a police captain named McCluskey, who was working for him. And Michael's actions subsequently forced him to go into hiding in Sicily, where he met a woman named Apollonia. The two of them apparently fell in love at first sight (which is the kind of thing that bugs me, because I don't believe in the concept), and after awhile they get married.
At some point, Fredo gets sent to Las Vegas, where he works with a hotel & casino owner named Moe Greene, but we don't see a whole lot of that plot point. (I will say though that, aside from Marlon Brando as Vito, Alex Rocco as Moe is probably the only actor I immediately recognized in this movie, though I think the only other thing I'd ever seen him in was The Famous Teddy Z; but I really liked him in that. It's funny, because before I ever saw this movie, I knew Al Pacino was in it- probably his most famous role ever- but I didn't know who he played, and I was actually waiting for him to show up in the movie... until at some point, probably around Michael's first encounter with McCluskey... or maybe when he was haing dinner with Kay at one point... I dunno, it just took awhile for me to realize Michael was Pacino; he really did not look or sound anything like Al Pacino, to me. Though once I realized it, the resemblance- you know, to himself- did become a bit clearer to me. But I never once recognized Kay as Diane Keaton....)
Anyway, while Michael was in Sicily, the actions he'd taken back in New York prompted a full-scale war between the families (with the Barzinis becoming more important enemies of the Corleones than the Tattaglias had been, though maybe this wasn't clear until later), as well as increased opposition from the police against organized crime. But eventually, Vito recovers, and convenes a meeting of the heads of the Five Families, to try to make a truce. And Michael returns home, after Apollonia was killed by a car bomb meant for him. He gets back together with Kay (though she was reluctant, and I don't think he ever told her or anyone in his family that he'd been married already; at least, I saw no mention of it). Anyway, even if I never got to know Kay well, I think she deserved better than Michael... and at least she was more interesting than Apollonia, who only had looks going for her. But after awhile, Michael becomes the acting don of the family (with Vito as his consigliere), and wants to make their business legitimate, shifting away from criminal activities to... slightly more acceptable enterprises, in Vegas. But there'd still be plenty of problems for him to deal with in New York.
I've left out tons of details, and some major plot developments, so... yeah, there aren't too many spoilers in this review. But then, I'm sure there were also lots of things that happened that I didn't do a very good job of following. At least I had a fair handle on what was going on. Most of the time. Though my grasp of the passage of time was probably way off. Like, apparently the movie covers a ten year period, ending in 1955. But throughout the film, there were things that seemed to me as if they were happening in short order, even if it made no sense to me. Probably this had to do with little things that weren't adequately explained, like Connie being pregnant at one point, and then at the end of the film her baby was being baptised, but this was much later, like for example, at that time Michael and Kay had at least one kid, when Kay hadn't even been with Michael, let alone pregnant, when Connie was. But I guess the baby from the end of the movie was her second child (to whom Michael becomes godfather), and I just never saw any indication of her first one having been born. But it was a pretty big family, and there were always babies around, whether or not it was clear to me whose they were. I'm sure Sonny had kids, too. And... meh, I dunno. There's also the fact that at one point in the movie, Michael got punched by McCluskey (apparently his jaw was broken, though I wasn't aware it was that bad until I read it online... which is just me being ridiculously oblivious), and it just seemed to me like it took longer for his bruises to go away than it should have. I'm sure that made it seem to me like less time was passing than actually was. Yeah, any number of little things screwed with my perception of time, and confused me.
But the movie has some interesting themes, involving family relations and... stuff. Revenge, politics between different crime families, etc. One big theme was Michael being drawn into a life he'd never wanted, in order to help his father, and turning out to be surprisingly good at it. (Which, in a strange, twisted way, put me in mind of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life.) Anyway, it's definitely a tragic movie on any number of levels. And I found most of the major characters interesting (even if there were a ton of characters I never really got to know very well at all). But even the ones I found interesting, I'm not sure I actually liked. (Probably my favorite character was Clemenza, though I wouldn't call him a major or minor character; he was somewhere in the middle, in terms of importance to the story.) Though probably the only character I actively disliked was Carlo. And... I dunno what else to say. Obviously this movie (and its first sequel) have had a huge influence on pop culture, as well as mainstream perspective of the Mafia in general. It really is a brilliant film. And yet... at the same time that I felt it was really long (almost three hours, and I thought it seemed even longer), I also kind of felt like there's so much more that could have been done with the story, if it had taken more time to focus on various things. Mostly little, personal things. Things unrelated to the family business... but rather the actual family itself. But... whatever. I'm not sure if I'll ever want to watch the movie again, but neither am I sure that I won't.
There are a couple of sequels, which I hope to see someday.