First published on 30 Jul 2012. Updated on 31 Jul 2012.
Over the years, The Godfather has become so deeply entrenched in the culture that it’s a challenge to see it with fresh eyes. “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse”; Brando scratching his cheek with his pinky; crosscutting between a christening and the elimination of the Corleones’ enemies; Pacino’s transformation from outsider to head of the family. It’s all been praised so lavishly that one can’t imagine the film living up to its reputation.
And yet, it does. From the haunting opening moments—an undertaker appeals to Don Vito Corleone (Brando) for justice, both of them enveloped in darkness so rich you could cut off slices of it—Coppola demonstrates absolute control of his material. He and cinematographer Gordon Willis knew the look they wanted, even tweaking the film-development process to up the red and yellow in the final print (giving the film its rich, almost sepia look).
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Coppola has a cast that’s an embarrassment of riches. Yes, Brando is amazing, but so is everyone. It’s worth watching secondary players like Abe Vigoda, Richard S. Castellano and Sterling Hayden, all of whom have great moments. Of course, it’s hard to find a moment in the film that isn’t great. The Godfather lives up to the term masterpiece.