Before this weekend, I was a virgin to The Godfather trilogy. Shocking, I know! For all those years I’d have people go on and on about it, while seeing the VHS tapes sticking out of their drawers. I still avoided it despite the praise, and only now have I decided to jump in. I think due to being exposed to all the Italian gangster junk that came after, I was expecting The Godfather to be the same. How wrong I was, and how foolish I’ve been.
The Godfather – 1972
The first film is the best, a perfect blend of family joy and criminal misery. The Godfather (Marlon Brando) is approaching the end of his days, but still remains greatly respected and trusted. Minus rival families all wanted a piece of his empire of course. After an attack leaving him hospitalised it brings his son Michael (Al Pacino) in to the fray. He didn’t want to be part of his fathers world, but we quickly witness his change as he takes charge.It is an excellent tale of responsibility and change.
The pace is slow with the dramatic moments spread sparsely apart. This would be a problem for a film with weak characterisation, but The Godfather excels in bringing the family alive. I expected the family to be a bunch of jerks, using pitiful reasons for being gangsters, but they aren’t. It was a nonexistent problem which stopped me watching the films till now. Every aspect is full of life, detail and love. There is perhaps no scene you can select to show off the qualities of the film, as everything is as important and intertwined as the other. Buono!
The Godfather Part II – 1974
A rare sequel which manages to equal the original. The Godfather Part II carries on Micheal’s rule of the Corleone family and how he continues down the path of destruction. We also witness Vito, the Godfather from the first film and how he rose to his position. The contrast of Vito and Micheal is brilliant, one man who is on the rise in the underworld while keeping his charm, another who is losing his humanity.
It has as many compelling set pieces as before, though with as the character count drops, we have to make do with Michael and his horrible personality. The ending feels like a defining end to the series and one full of bitterness and comeuppance, yet it is impossible not to care. The characters are as strong as before and feel like they once lived, rather than actors on a stage. Buono!
The Godfather Part III – 1990
And then came The Godfather Part III. Years after the second film, Part III screamed of cash cow and unnecessary. The story of Part III is Michael looking for redemption, a good concept to take the series. Shame that for every moving moment of Michael facing his past and looking on how to have a better crack at the future, the film is stuffed full of problems. Few enticing characters to invest in, unbelievable action scenes involving Pope assassination, a daughter who needs acting school and a cheap final scene which isn’t earned.
So many elements bring down a film which could have been something, but sequels years later never have the same love. Die Hard 4, Indiana Jones 4 and Star Wars are three examples, though the latter two are a bit more offensive than the results of Part III. Should have been left alone or not rushed out for the holiday season. A bum note to taint two excellent films before it. Cattivo!
Two out of three isn’t a bad end result though, and I understand why they are so highly regarded. Gangsters aren’t so bad after all.