Reactions from people who want movies to jump out at them, such as particular action or horror films. However, most critics and scholars of cinema see The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II as masterpieces along with many film fans, while The Godfather: Part III is not. In this article, I will try to explain why the first movie is indeed a masterpiece and one of the greatest movies ever made.
- Camera shots—Everything worked. From the use of the camera in the opening scene between the Don and the funeral director, Amerigo Bonasera, to the editing of Michael’s acceptance as godfather to his sister Connie’s first child, the camera used deliberate tactics to tell the viewer that there was more than what met the eye. We don’t see Don Corleone initially: instead, we hear the immigrant Bonasera recount his love for America along with obedience to the system until some thugs decided to attempt to rape his daughter, then beat her brutally. Michael obeys the words of the priest as he follows the rites of baptism for Connie’s child, even agreeing to renounce Satan while all the heads of the Five Families along with Moe Greene are killed while he is doing his duty as a good Catholic. In the first scene I describe, we see what Vito Corleone is really about: he is an alternative to the Sicilian immigrants who came to America and realized it was not a paradise. But the film wants Bonosero to share his story before the Don because he refused to see the Don as that savior. America was his savior until they allowed his daughter to be hurt and denied justice. That was when Bonosero understood Don’s role. And Don Corleone was not going to let him forget that for decades he ignored Don’s friendship because he saw him, not the American system, as the criminal. Likewise, Michael is fulfilling his role as a good brother, a good uncle, and an excellent Catholic while all the murders he carefully ordered and planned take place outside the church. There is an America that exists that the Corleone family understands all too well. They will do what they need to do to avoid detection from that America, but they do not count on it for justice. The Corleone family decides truth: both son and father.
- Point of view: the book itself is excellent, and it was a best seller in its time. The director, Francis Ford Coppola, rightfully got the author, Mario Puzo, to assist in the screenplay. Very little was disturbed from the original writing, but the story felt new because Puzo could not use points of view as he did in his novel. So we are seeing the story mainly through the eyes of the various protagonists: Michael, Tom, Carlo, Sonny, Connie, Kay, and Don Vito. There is no one point of view, and no one has a vision that is privileged over anyone else. We see the story as it happens to them, plus we realize that all is connected through this idea called Family, which itself has a metaphoric meaning that the film never forgets.
- We side with the Corleones. Yes, they are gangsters. Yes, they are criminals. They also are complicated as Sonny is someone who genuinely believes in defending the weak. He takes in Tom Hagen, who has no home as a child and makes him his brother. Don Vito is beloved by his children, grandchildren, and friends. We cheer Michael on when he decides to kill the enemies of his Family by shooting Sollozzo and the corrupt Captain McCluskey at dinner. We share Tom’s pain when we see that Sonny’s death has ripped him apart, and he knew he couldn’t stop it. We feel Kay’s shock when she realizes that her husband, Michael, is no longer the man she thought she married, but we also understand why Michael did what he did in the first film. Most of these people are not bad guys. We see the beginning of the anti-hero, something film and television now use frequently.
- It is three hours long, and we want to know everything about the characters. For such a long film, the story is remarkably clear. When we discuss the film, we talk about the change in Michael. Do we agree that he needed to become the Don in such a way? Was Kay naive? Should the Don have gone for the drug deal? Why did Sonny die so brutally, with one of the soldiers deliberately kicking in his face? Doesn’t the Don realize that Sonny was never ready to run the Empire? Was he always hoping that Michael would step in, even when he denied it and said he wanted Michael in politics? People can talk for hours about the motivations of the characters.
I’ll add one more thing to this already long answer. This was not an easy film to make. Coppola was always fighting with Paramount about his ideas. Marlon Brando had to take a screen test to get the part. Al Pacino was convinced every day on the set that he would get fired. Coppola included a lot of his Family: baby Sofia Coppola as the baptized baby, Talia Shire who played Connie, was his sister, and his father Carmine contributed original music to the film. Coppola complains bitterly about making the film, but I think the stressful situation added to the overall genius of the work. Sometimes art can only happen when there is conflict, not peace.
So, It is one of the greatest films ever made.