The Unpopular Opinion: The Godfather
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
My name is Matt and I do not like THE GODFATHER. There, I said it.
Ive seen the whole movie, but have never managed to watch it in one sitting because I find the whole thing ponderous, self-indulgent, ugly, washed out and relatively infantile. Some of you are probably already hyperventilating with rage so go ahead and take a minute. It honestly just gets worse from here. Grab a paper bag and come back when youre ready.
The heart of why I dislike the film is that I do not want to spend three hours with these characters. Ive always found the American mafia, at least as portrayed in popular media, to be fairly dimwitted bullies who demand respect but dont give it, believe an inability to solve problems without violence to be an attribute, and have an utterly abhorrent view of women whose soul purpose in their world seems to be fucking, breeding, standing quietly and never questioning a mans authority.
Make no mistake, despite the movies fascination with the mafia, and its attempt to humanize, even draw the audiences sympathy for it, this is no charitably inclined protection organization looking out for the neighborhood and providing victimless diversions. In fact, Don Vito Corleone is little more than a thug with delusions of beneficence. This might be a crazy idea, but Im of the opinion that if someone has ordered multiple executions, they are not a good role model no matter how good they feel about themselves.
Providing counterpoint to the Don is Michael Corleone and his transformation from a clean cut, conflicted man into a cold blooded head of a mafia clan. Of course, lip service is given by Don Corleone about wanting Michael to remain a civilian, but he does nothing to save his son from the lifestyle. A good father wants whats best for his son. But the Don knows Michael is the best choice to head the family after he is gone, so he selfishly allows Michael to follow that path even knowing itd be better for his son to stay out.
And Im supposed to like this guy? Please. Even his death plays out like some ridiculous YouTube video of a clumsy fat man. I guess it might follow that I should feel more affection for Michael, but honestly hes even worse than his dad or his brothers. Sonny and Fredo are what they are, with little thought given to anything that is not right in front of them. But Michael, shallow and petulant as he is, knows better but goes ahead and chooses a path of rage and violence because he ultimately cant resist the allure of cheap power. Pathetic if you ask me.
I especially dislike Mikey because his story forced me to spend waaaay too fucking long in Italy. It served little point toward the story except to make Michael seem extra stupid, immature, and allow him to come back with a deep secret that affected his character arc not at all. His change of heart was solidified with the restaurant murder, not his unmailed mail-order brides death. And please dont give me the sticking to the book argument, because the book was focused on the Don, not Michael, something the film flips completely.
Another issue I have with the film is the one note characterizations. Sonny is angry, Fredo is weak, Hagen is loyal, Michael is conflicted until hes not and the Don is the Don. None of these characters do anything remotely surprising, which leaves little in the performances to be enjoyed outside of the underused character actors that populate the film.
Now unfortunately we are also stuck with a film that in trying to establish a period feel gives us a colorless palate that I find quite frankly boring to look at. The framing of most scenes lacks cohesion and has a kitchen sink feel. Lets either capture everything and hope something interesting makes it in, or just shoot it with no particular style or substance and hope people love it for being uncomplicated. Uncomplicated is fine if your story and your actors are that compelling, but here they simply do not deliver.
The biggest thing I despise about The Godfather though, is the effect it has had on American culture. The concept that respect can be demanded, can be established through fear, and especially that it is something that requires no one ever act against you no matter how out of line you may be has literally infested our consciousness. Everybody wants respect, wants to have the power to demand it, yet so many people fail to see that true respect cannot be forced, and must be given before it can be received.
Im also sick of the whole idea that organized criminals have some useful purpose. The protection they offer is never without cost, because once you have accepted their help they will always consider you under their thumb if they need you. Thats not protection, its slavery. And they certainly are not involved in victimless crimes. The Dons reluctance to get involved in the drug trade is a hollow subterfuge trying to make one crime seem more legitimate than another. Ignoring the human cost of mafia controlled prostitution and gambling just sounds like the senile ramblings of an old man to me.
So with all due respect to Godfather lovers, AFI and the Oscars, I do not like this movie, I hate its message, and I think its infantile view of the criminal underworld mixed with its eager acceptance of the legitimacy of those ideas makes our world a more dangerous place.