The Godfather ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
The ageing patriarch of an organized crime dynasty in postwar New York City transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant youngest son. Re-released in cinemas this week.
This week The Godfather was re-released on the big screen on a pristine new print which not only brings to life the spectacular (and for the time quite revolutionary) cinematography, with its dark shadowy interiors in stark contrasts with the sun-scorched exteriors, but it also gives us an excuse to re-discover this undisputed masterpiece.
I must confess I had not seen the film in years (shame on me!). I thought I knew it well enough and I didn’t need to re-watch it again, but I actually had forgotten its true majesty and how good it really was.
We all remember the ultra-classic and infinitely quotable lines like “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” or “leave the gun and take the cannoli”, and of course those iconic moments like the horse’s head and those various killings throughout, but to watch it all again from start to finish was a real experience.
The Godfather didn’t just redefine crime and gangsters movies, but it transcended the genre and gave a whole new language to cinema itself.
The way it slowly builds to create tension using all the tools that a film-maker has at their disposal, from sound to editing, from cinematography to camera movements. Any random scene in The Godfather can be picked up and studied in any film-school today and it would tell you everything you need to know about storytelling, direction, acting, editing, sound.
Just look at the way it starts, from the iconic fantastic (and ultra-hummable!) score by Nino Rota, to the “I believe in America” speech, to the way we are introduced to Don Corleone, mainly through the people around him. The juxtaposition with what’s going on inside in those dark seedy rooms, where everything is much more controlled, set-up and tense and that lavish Italian wedding outside which almost feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, flawless in its depiction, down to the most minute detail.
All the way to the spectacular montage at the end, cross-cutting between various assassinations and a baptism (“Do you denounce the devil?”): a cinematic bravura with to this day people are still trying to copy.
And of course everything in between. 180 minutes with not a single misstep.
But it’s actually the quieter scenes which I was most impressed with this time. Those more intimate moments which give the film its emotional depth.
I love the way most of the dialogue scenes work, starting with tight close ups during those seemingly intimate conversation and then only after a few minutes revealing in wider shots that there are actually always a bunch of other people listening in.
And throughout this, the fantastic use of sound (car tires skidding, footsteps approaching, trains screeching in the background) or sometimes the lack of it (long stretches of silences) which heighten the tension, the peril and seem to make it all even more menacing.
Few of these “tricks” feel forced or flashy: they’re all organically and beautifully integrated into the story.
It is a film which is intentionally slow. Precise in its execution, it slowly and masterfully unravels through a wealth sub-plots all contributing to the audience’s emotional investment towards the characters and however bad we think they are, we can’t help but feeling for them.
And I’ve not even mentioned the stellar cast: Marlon Brando, of course, iconic to the point of parody these days, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, dozens of perfectly cast character actors who seem to be born to be even just in the background and last but certainly not least Al Pacino, who, at the very beginning of his career became heart and soul of the film.
Of course, for better or worse (mostly worse) this film was single-handedly responsible for changing the ideas of Italians around the world: it brought the concept of Mafia to people’s homes, as well as Italians’ innate sense of loyalty towards their family.
As an Italian living abroad, I’ve been victim of this cliché-view more often that I care to admit, but it speaks volumes of the power that this film still has on our collect consciousness. This latest re-release is just “an offer you can’t refuse” to refamiliarise yourself with one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.
… And by the way, talking about masterpieces, Part II will be out next week. I wonder if I’ll have enough stars to tell you how good that one is too!
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
The Godfather is re-released in cinemas this week.
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See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
See also: Theatre review – Running with Lions at the Lyric, Hammersmith
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