Review: The Godfather (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenwriters: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzzo
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
Genres: Drama, Crime
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Release Dates: 3/24/72 (Theatres); 8/1/13 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2 hours, 55 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Oscars: Won–Leading Actor (Brandon), Picture, Adapted Screenplay; Nominated–Supporting Actor (Pacino, Caan, & Duvall), Director, Costume Design, Sound, Editing, Original Score
Where to Watch: Rent/Buy – Vudu, Fandango, Amazon, etc.

How do you review a film that has already been discussed and raved about since its release (in this case, nearly 50 years ago)? As you may have noticed from my recent posts, I’ve been attempting to catch up on Oscar winners of the past, especially on those that were released way before I was born. I can’t really consider myself a movie snob until I’ve caught up on those movies, and I’m glad I’m finally checking classics like The Godfather off my seemingly never-ending list. 

Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy is said to be the greatest of all time (although many claim the third film to not be worth watching). While I will probably end up not disagreeing with that — sorry, Lord of the Rings currently holds that title in my heart — I can see why these movies may become so beloved. Coppola and author-screenwriter Mario Puzo wasted no time in introducing viewers to the complex, bloody, often terrifying world of the Italian mafia — specifically, the Corleone family. 

Despite its nearly three-hour runtime, the first film rarely feels boring is slow. It is surprisingly fast-paced, and even the quiet moments with little to no action, the dialogue and scenes move right along (almost Sorkin-esque, before his time obviously). The only thing that bothered me was the inability to properly decipher what Marlo Brando — who apparently had stuffed his mouth to sound that particular way — was saying. Next time I may need to use subtitles, as I fear some of the dialogue was lost to me. 

The performances are clearly superb, although I wasn’t as impressed with Brando’s performance as I was with everyone else’s; that’s not to say I don’t think it was worthy of recognition. Rather, he was mistakenly categorized as a Leading Actor (for which he won, and famously got a Native American actress to stand in for him at the Oscars), whereas he is largely absent in the middle of the film. Al Pacino is really the main character here, so I can see why he boycotted the Oscars that year (he was nominated for Supporting Actor) because of this category fraud. James Caan and Robert Duvall are also very strong in their roles. It’s a treat to see the three talented men working together, early in their careers.

And, look, there’s a very young Diane Keaton, as Michael Corleon’s (Pacino) girlfriend and then wife. Unfortunately, she isn’t given a personality beyond that. Now, if only Coppola and Puzzo were as adept at writing female roles as they were for male roles. Michael’s sister’s portrayal is a little dated too, and I found the actresses performance too over-the-top and melodramatic. But, that’s just me. 

Regardless of the fact that I don’t believe the film to be perfect, I can’t give it any grade but…