The Godfather (1972) | Movies to See Before You Die

"A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man."

The Godfather movie
Marlon Brando in The Godfather

It’s hard to argue with people who put The Godfather on an almost mythic pedestal. The film was an immediate hit in every possible way upon its release in 1972. Without the benefit of being alive at the time, it certainly feels like the film instantly became part of the cultural landscape. I saw the movie as a child, long before I could completely understand it. If you grew up around people who watched movies with any sort of frequency, odds were pretty good that it would be one of the first R-rated movies your parents let you watch.

I was alive for the release of The Godfather Part III, which while not nearly as successful as the previous two (honestly, it’s fine) cemented the whole Corleone saga as a permanent piece of movie history for me. This is nothing special. Millions of people feel this way about at least the first two films, with the initial 1972 classic still captivating new viewers after more than 50 years.

Sometimes, you see a movie with a tsunami of enthusiastic hype beneath it, and don’t quite get what all the fuss is about. That wasn’t my experience with The Godfather, which sees a young Michael Corleone (Al Pacino in what is still one of his best) return from the Second World War to what he hopes will be a new future with his young girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton).

What happens instead is open warfare between the mafia empire of his father Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and the other major crime families, forcing Michael into a life he doesn’t particularly want. Michael’s journey is only one part of a story that extends to the Corleone family, including hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan) and the perpetually unlucky Connie (Talia Shire). The Godfather is above anything else a sprawling ensemble that shows one family’s story in terms both intimate and expansive.

Literally millions and millions of words have been written about The Godfather. It’s often regarded for being from a time in our cultural history where critics, audiences, and even Hollywood itself could seemingly get on the same page. It hasn’t lost any of its dramatic punch, with characters both in and around the larger narrative that seem to exist within and beyond the film. This is a larger-than-life quality that somehow also feels like a small story with a deep, sharp focus on Michael, Sonny, their poor idiot brother Fredo (the late, perfect John Cazale), Corleone family consigliere and unofficial brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) Kay, Vito, Connie’s wretched husband Carlo, Luca Brasi, and on it goes. Every character is interesting. Every line of dialogue is compelling.

The Godfather is a perfect movie by my count. It’s pure entertainment with a deep background that’s there if you want to explore things like how a film is made, character motivations, themes, and everything that’s part of seeing a movie that leaves you with an insatiable creative and intellectual curiosity.

If you don’t care about any of that, The Godfather is just a great crime drama in every sense of the word. Performances, pacing, story, direction, music, editing. It is still among the best of what cinema has to offer.

The Godfather Trilogy [4K UHD]
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