Francis Ford Coppola
For the first time in my three years writing for this website, I don’t know how to start a review. What exactly can one say about THE GODFATHER? Is it the greatest film ever made? For the sake of avoiding such meaningless titles, I’ll avoid pegging it down as such, but it’s undeniable to view it as at least one of the best films ever forged and a gravely important piece of cinema that works within and outside of its mobster genre.
There are so many influential and iconic images, scenes and lines in THE GODFATHER that, after years of being revered and copied, to even mention them borders on parody. Marlon Brando is oft remembered as a mumbling caricature for his portrayal of the titular Vito Corleone, but his soft spoken presence permeates and affects every part of the film, not just the plot, that it’s hard to deny the actor’s appeal and performance. James Caan has the flashier role as the hotheaded Sonny, and while Caan’s made a career out of similar characters, his tough guy personal here is imperative. Then of course there’s Al Pacino. Watching the young actor work so effortlessly is almost reassuring and comforting compared to the wild-eyed screamer he’s aged in to today. People love him from SCARFACE and DOG DAY AFTERNOON, but he’ll always be Michael Corleone to me.
Francis Ford Coppola’s sure and steady direction turns a sluggishly paced film in to a smoldering time bomb. There’s so much going on above and below the surface that it’s difficult to fully appreciate the complexities of a seemingly simple story of a son begrudgingly following in his fathers footsteps. The sequence near the end at the christening, for example, is a masterwork that’s so perfectly executed (pun intended) that it seems almost effortless—like the rest of the film.
5 out of 5 stars.
THE GODFATHER PART II
The rare sequel that lives up to if not surpasses its predecessor, THE GODFATHER PART II is another minor miracle from Coppola. The story and themes carry over from the first film with enough escalated stakes and convolutions to make it feel as a necessary counterpart to the original, as opposed to a cash-in to a successful franchise.
Pacino steps up to the plate in this movie and carries it completely. His Michael Corleone is a different man this time around; a bit more confident and sure in his position as head of the “family.” However, he still carries the moral weight of the previous film in his every action and expression, and it’s easy to recognize, like you’ve known the guy his entire life. Pacino gets a little help from a young Robert DeNiro, who is cold and calculating, but still relatable as the young Vito. The rise of the elder Corleone from Sicily to America and back to the old country is perfectly handled (just watch the sequence where Vito stalks Fannuci during the parade…amazing). As a parallel to Michael’s own path, the flashback storyline fits so well in this second movie that it’s a godsend that Coppola saved it from the original novel and didn’t use it in the first film.
PART II sports another perfect ending sequence. When both plots meet in the finale it provides new relevance to two film’s full of already important characters and themes. No matter how much he tried to run from it, Michael never had any choice to be what he is and we realize the tragedy of that when it’s too late.
5 out of 5 stars.
THE GODFATHER PART III
To put it in the parlance of our time, THE GODFATHER PART III suffers a bit from INDIANA JONES 4 syndrome. Sixteen years since the first sequel, the third movie felt equally unnecessary and worrisome, though it was somewhat nice to revisit characters you enjoy. (It also wasn’t helped by Coppola’s public declaration that he was doing it for the money and felt the first two movies told the Corleone story satisfactorily.) It never had a chance but to be publicly dismissed.
To be fair, the third part is less heinous and more acceptable after a rewatch and a breather. (And listening to it with Coppola’s commentary, I can appreciate what he was going for a lot more.) Picking up with the older, lonelier Michael feels like the natural story to tell and in keeping with the modern times (and reaction to the first film’s own influence on the genre). It’s easy to see the toll his path has taken on him, helped by Pacino’s own visible aging, and one can imagine the years in between. It’s an equally tragic story, just not as good or glamorous as the previous films.
The cast does acceptable work, especially Pacino, Diane Keaton and a young Andy Garcia. However, two things stand in the way. The first is the regrettable loss of Robert Duvall due to salary negotiations. His place in the family brought a unique perspective that should’ve come to a head in the third film, and writing him out only to replace him by George Hamilton still leaves me uneasy. Of course, the second gripe is Sofia Coppola as Michael’s daughter Mary. A lot has been said about her performance and casting, but I’ll just say that Francis’ daughter is a much, much better director than she is an actress. Her stiff performance is the biggest hurdle for the film, which was already in “good but not great” territory, especially inevitably compared to the previous two. It puts a decent cap on the story along with some closure for the characters, but it will always be a hard movie to love.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola on all three films: Taken from the previous DVDs, this is an excellent addition to the movies you already love. It shouldn’t be surprising that Coppola’s a great storyteller and here he shares unique stories for each of the films. I always appreciate honesty in a commentary, which Coppola provides, not just about himself, but with regards to the other players as well. He’s especially forthcoming with his views on the third film. Definitely a must listen for fans.
New 2008 Supplements:
GODFATHER World (11:20): Comments and thoughts from various industry people like Alec Baldwin, Trey Parker, Guillermo Del Toro and Sopranos creator David Chase on the effect of the GODFATHER series on modern entertainment and pop culture as a whole. Worth watching for the collection of inspired clips from The Simpsons and South Park, as well as to hear Joe Mantegna call it “the Italian Star Wars.”
The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn’t (29:45): George Lucas, Robert Evans and others guide you through a tour of Hollywood as the 1960s ended, and share the trials and tribulations of getting THE GODFATHER made during the time the way they wanted it. Some very cool, insidery stories from some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
…When The Shooting Stopped (14:19): Tales from the editing room from different viewpoints (including Lucas and Steven Spielberg), including how they fought to keep it over 2 hours and without an intermission. You also get some cool looks at classic scenes edited different ways with different music.
Emulsional Rescue: Rescuing THE GODFATHER (19:07): A featurette on Coppola and Spielberg’s long journey to restoring the print that led to this DVD. It’s some fascinating stuff for cinephiles, including a worldwide search to collect the best looking prints and film elements from all three movies, as well as geeky discussions about color timing and why the film seems “dark” thanks to DOP Gordon Willis.
GODFATHER on the Red Carpet (4:04): For some reason, out of all the places to ask people about this movie, they chose the premier of CLOVERFIELD. So you get insightful comments from Natasha Henstridge, John Cho and a bunch of other people I don’t know.
Short Films (7:24): Four short segments about the films, including a Godfather vs. Godfather Part II debate, Richard Belzer riffing and one that answers the question of what happened to Clemenza.
Original 2001 Supplements:
A Look Inside (1:13:24): A documentary from 1990 chronicling the time as Coppola, Mario Puzo and crew gear up to shoot the third film and reminisce about the previous series. You get some behind the scenes footage from the third film (as well as some looks at the set of the first two) and it’s cool to see Coppola directing and getting things together. A big portion is literally cast and crew sitting around a table eating and talking, so it feels like you're witnessing something authentic and revealing.
Additional Scenes: Wow. 35 cut scenes, with close to an hour of material. It’s divided up and presented chronologically, and my favorite was the extra DeNiro as Vito Corleone stuff. (There’s even a spot where a young DeNiro meets a young Hyman Roth.) Another good one is the alternate opening to the third movie, a reflection of the famous opening shot from the first GODFATHER. The whole thing comes with a detailed timeline too (that answers exactly what year Michael died.)
On Location (6:56): As the films were mostly shot in real locales as opposed to studio lots, the original production designers take you on a tour of some of the filming spots on the lower east side. A cool walk through history.
Francis Coppola’s Notebook (10:12): Coppola shares his “promptbook” with all his original notes and ideas from his first reading of Mario Puzo’s novel. Grown over the years and ridiculously organized, it looks like a giant dictionary.
Music of THE GODFATHER (8:46): Audio interviews between Coppola and the composer, with some live performances of the classic themes. Also meet Carmine Coppola, Francis’s father who composed some of the score and provides interesting insight in to his relationship with his son.
Coppola and Puzo on Screenwriting (8:07): A brief interview with the author and director on adapting the book and the different roles they shared.
Gordon Willis on Cinematography (3:45): The images in this movie are so unique and the style so iconic that it’s welcoming to hear from the man responsible.
THE GODFATHER Behind The Scenes 1971 (8:58): An original press piece from the first film’s release. Some fun interviews with younger stars and it’s always a blast to see how different PR stuff is now.
The Family Tree: Click on a name in the tree to get a brief bio. Great attention to detail here.
Acclaim and Response: Some awards clips from the Oscars along with acceptance speeches. Nice to see Jack Nicholson was still sitting in the front row even in the 70s.
Galleries, Trailers, Storyboards from the last two movies and Filmmaker Bios. It also comes with a congratulatory reacharound.
Extra Tidbit: Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder both dropped out of the role of Mary Corleone before Sofia Coppola was cast.