The Godfather (1972)
The nature of the tale has its clear links to the soap opera genre, and the explicit themes are both simple and inherently anti-intellectual (Tom Hagen is the counterweight in this respect - until he is deemed surplus to requirements). But these two features might just be decisive in the initial achievement, and subsequent consolidation of The Godfather as one of the most renowned and acclaimed films in the history of cinema. Because, as Coppola has shown here, the key is to be able to wrap the demands of the general public in large enough proportions, and present them through unparalleled storytelling. The Godfather takes hold of the classic idea of epic filmatizations, adds a well-measured amount of pulp to it, and subjects it to brilliant craftsmanship - both in front of and behind the camera. Coppola's most important achievement with The Godfather is the relevance he is able to find in the parallel between the situation he is presenting on a local/family level in the 40s and the way the same mechanisms still prevail in the more macro political situation in more recent times. As a period piece, The Godfather is accurate, charming and visually striking. It looks better and has more detail than most gangster-films set in the same era. Furthermore, the film deals devotedly with the Italian/American-connection, and the segments from Sicily not only spice up the film, but also function as a fine thematic backdrop for the continuation of the story.
What ultimately makes The Godfather so effective, is the thoroughness in the storytelling, the strength of the characters, and how both these aspects are anchored to perfection in the classic tragedy. Rarely have a wider variation of tragic flaws been studied on film. And carried by a diverse range of characters, they call on great performances. Marlon Brando, as so often during this period of his career, approaches his role with an aloofness bordering on caricature. But this time it is a pinpointed caricature lifted by his magnetic command, and as the film unfolds, the character gets to him. Few things are as fascinating as watching Brando when he finally has embodied a character fully - when he has lost himself to it. The scene with Don Vito's grandson is absolutely captivating. Al Pacino's performance is notable for its metamorphosis. He grows into a compelling figure that has come to typify Pacino's subsequent career. But in many ways, Pacino is at his best in the early parts of the film. The final of the three best performances in the film belongs to Robert Duvall, whose subdued, sensitive Tom Hagen represents an important contrast to the other members of the family. A family that fascinates and frustrates, that gets to you with its all-embracing, encompassing and extreme nature. A nature that some of the most capitalistic western societies (including USA) share quite a bit of characteristics with today.