45. 'The Godfather'
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"The Godfather" has been my favorite film for some time now, and I don't see
that changing any time soon. Based on a rather sloppily written pulp novel by
Mario Puzo about a fictional New York mob family called the Corleones, the film,
as directed by Francis Ford Coppola, became something else — one
of the greatest American films in history and an epic, tragic, blood-drenched
meditation on the price of loyalty, the amorality of power and the loss of a
single man's soul.
That man is Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the youngest of Mafia don Vito
Corleone's (Marlon Brando) three sons and the one adamantly kept out of the
family business at first. But once an attempted hit on his father brings Michael
into the fold, he transforms into the most ruthless crime boss of all — one who
will stop at nothing to consolidate his reign. Much of the attention over the
years has gone to Brando's iconic performance, but Pacino is brilliant and
eventually frightening in the role (it's hard to imagine Robert Redford pulling
it off — as Paramount Pictures originally demanded, leading Coppola to almost
quit the production).
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The rich thematic concerns of "The Godfather" rise above the source material,
but it is also far from some sort of drawing room drama. The film's operatic set
pieces, such as the infamous horse's head scene and the bloody surprise attack
on James Caan's Sonny, are unforgettable. The jaw-dropping climax, in which
Michael baptizes his nephew with a clear conscience while his minions are
unleashed to settle the family's business in one sustained orgy of death,
remains my favorite cinematic sequence of all time in a movie overflowing with
them. — Don Kaye (Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, John
Cazale in "The Godfather"/©Moviestore Collection/Rex