Top critical review
Oh, Those Corleones...
on August 18, 2003
No American filmmaker has had a more disappointing trajectory to his film career than Francis Ford Coppola. To have directed four of the most influential films of the 70's (the first two "Godfather" films, "The Conversation," and "Apocalypse Now") and then to spend the last two decades churning out one stinky product after another ("Peggy Sue Got Married," "Bram Stoker's Dracula", the third "Godfather") earns Coppola my award for Most Promising Director Who Most Miserably Failed at Establishing Himself as an Important Figure of American Cinema.
But before "Jack" there was "The Godfather." While I feel the whole "Godfather" trilogy has been lauded into oblivion and is somewhat overrated, who am I to argue with the majority? People think these are great movies, and they've certainly implanted themselves permanently in our cultural consciousness.
And don't get me wrong: these films have moments of greatness (at least the first two installments do). But I think "The Conversation" and "Apocalypse Now" are ultimately more interesting films, and I think Coppola stretched himself more artistically in those two films than he did in the entire "Godfather" trilogy combined.
Of the trilogy, the first film is by far the best. It shows Coppola's flair for being able to craft a story with extreme mainstream appeal while staying faithful to his artistic vision. "The Godfather" doesn't look or sound quite like any gangster film before it, with it's muddy lighting and sound. It's also much more ambiguous morally than the usual Hollywood gangster film, at least any produced up to that point. The line between crime and justice is blurred sometimes beyond distinction, and the Corleone family at times acts with more honor (in its own way) than the institutions charged with upholding freedom, justice and morality. In this way, "The Godfather" offered a scathing critique of the foundations on which America as a country was built.
Coppola, however, drives this point into the ground over the course of three films. There's really not much more to say after the first film (it's already apparent that Michael Corleone's style of rule is different from his father's, his coldness and ruthlessness necessitated by a changing time), but we have to sit through a nearly 3 1/2 hour second installment that does nothing but reiterate this point again and again. Part II at least is saved by the back story of Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando in Part I and Robert De Niro in Part II), and that story alone keeps Part II afloat. But Part III is wholly unnecessary and mars the whole enterprise, turning the franchise into the stuff of parody and camp.
Al Pacino is the glue that holds the trilogy together, though his character really isn't as complex as a first viewing would have you believe. The major conflict facing him is resolved in the first film, and the second and third films give him nothing to do but replay what are essentially the same scenes over and over again.
Other standouts in the cast include Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire (who alone makes the third chapter worth watching).
Obviously a must see for cinema buffs, or even casual fans, but don't feel you have to label this trilogy as great just because of the reputation that precedes it.
Part I: A
Part II: B
Part III: C-