So, we come to the ultimate in supposed ‘must see’ movies. Everyone who hasn’t got this particular monkey off their back is guaranteed to have endured someone who layers every word in the following sentence with incredulity: “You haven’t seen The Godfather?”
Now, its been well over a month since my last review, and I did say that I was going to reel these movies off rather quickly. However, The Godfather seems to have been an exception. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the film is 3 hours long, and it was hard to find the time for it in my busy schedule.
Secondly, its The freaking Godfather. It ranks second in IMDB’s Top 250 of all time, just ahead of itself Part 2. Its not the film you put on during a lazy weekday between Jeremy Kyle and Pointless, surely? It’s supposed to be an experience to savour at the exact right time. You disable the front doorbell, draw your curtains, and ready yourself to see what all the fuss is about.
And thirdly, once I had gone through all that trouble, I proudly told my dad that I had ticked off another film from his extensive collection, which resembles a cinema purists branch of Blockbusters. He smiled back and said. “Excellent”, before pausing, and delivering a knock-out blow. “Now you’ve got Part I out of the way, you’re in for a real treat.” So, rather deflatedly, I decided to view the first two instalments of The Godfather series before submitting this review.
So, I bet you guys want a sort of plot summation, as is the style in film reviews? Right. Marlon Brando plays Vito “Godfather” Corleone, don of an organised crime family. His sons include hot headed Sonny (James Caan), clever adoptee Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and law abiding war hero Michael (Al Pacino). All good so far, you are thinking, so whats it about? What actually happens?
Well, you see, its all very slow burning. The first hour and a half is fairly diplomatic. The Corleones are roughly introduced via a family wedding, Vito shows his rationale dealing with a narcotics investment, and Sonny shows his volatile nature dealing with an abusive brother-in-law. There’s talking and business strategy, punctuated with the occasional whacking and mob war.
From what I have heard, people do complain that the film gets off to a slow start, and only picks up in terms of action towards the end. To those people, I say this: that is how it is supposed to be. What director Francis Ford Coppola does so well is to mirror the emotions in the pace of the movie. While Vito is in charge, the tempo is as calm and measured as he is. But whenever he is out of the picture, the mood and momentum become more impetuous, less considered and what the layperson describes as ‘exciting’.
Dare we move onto the sequel? This would be the more critically acclaimed, having scooped more Oscars than its predecessor. It is a movie broken into two storylines. One is a flashback for the genesis of a young Vito Andolini (Robert De Niro) from Corleone, Sicily to 1920’s New York. The second plot follows the current day efforts of his son to expand the business and crush any opposition in his way.
And… that is all I am going to say about the sequel, because there is not much you need to know having not seen the first instalment yet. What I can say, in some attempt to wade in on this battle between the two movies, is that there should be no competition between them. From what I can see, Part II serves as both a sequel and an prequel (obvious statment), but is simply a continuation or a companion movie (contentious statement). It is better to view them as two halves of one great movie (see how I now discount Part III completely?). Therefore, to keep my word count both respectable and at a readable length, I shall review them as one.
The cast is about as good as you’ll get in a movie, as evidenced by the 2 wins and 7 nominations spread over both Academy Awards ceremonies. The pair of wins came for portrayals of the character Vito Corleone, by both Brando and De Niro. Pacino was nominated Best Supporting Actor for both films, while Duvall and Diane Keaton took notable praise for their roles.
The cinematography by Coppola is excellent (and as I said before, beautifully paced), the soundtrack by Nino Rota is thoroughly understated but menacing, and yet the most credit throughout the production goes to writer Mario Puzo. It is after all, ‘Mario Puzo’s The Godfather’, and allowing him to maintain control in adapting the screenplay was a big factor in the main selling point of these films. The dialogue from this film is widely regarded to be part of the teaching that allows man to train for one of the most mature roles of his life.
Alright, so lets come to a definitive outcome outcome on this. Because there may be some people out there who haven’t seen it yet, and wan’t to know if its worth their time. And to those people I say…
What? You haven’t seen The Godfather?
Next up in the list of ‘Classic films everyone’s bugging me to see’ is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 2.
The action centres around Captain Benjamin Willard, a US Army officer sent on a special mission to track down and kill rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz. It has one of the most celebrated casts of any movie in history, including Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and a young Laurence Fishburne.
Let me just say now, that as with Blade Runner, I did not watch the original theatrical release version. What I put into my DVD player was ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’, which allows for a further 49 minutes of footage cut in by Coppola himself. In total, that took the running time up to a whopping 3 hours 15 minutes.
Though, from the initial half an hour, that doesn’t seem too bad at all. After all, the very first scene in the movie is this…
At this point in time, despite the explosions and general massacre, the mood is unnervingly upbeat. The Americans, led by Lt. Kilgore (Duvall), are fairly jovial, chatting about surfing and that most delectable smell of napalm in the morning. Then we split off with Willard and his crew on the long journey to find Kurtz (Brando). By this time in the Redux version, we get to see some extra bits added back in by Coppola. And I have to say, it almost ruins the entire film. A couple of scenes (particularly those involving Playboy Playmates and French colonialists), while vaguely interesting from a psychological point of view, kill the pace of the film dead. And its not often you can say that about Playmates.
You’ll also notice that Brando hasn’t appeared as of yet. Nor does he (having pocketed a then whopping $3.5 million fee), for the first 2 hours of this movie. But eventually Willard and Co. make it upstream to meet Kurtz. And we get the epic confrontation we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the film. And it is fantastic… at least I think so. Because throughout the last hour, Coppola likes to obscure the principal characters in darkness. And I mean every scene.
I won’t tell you how it goes, but yeah. That takes you up to the end of Apocalypse Now. So, how do I rate it?
Well, the visuals are staggering. From beaches to jungles, the scenery is always compelling. You can even feel the muggy Vietnamese climate on the sweat-drenched faces of the cast. A cast, I might add, that excels. Duvall won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando does a superb job as ever. However, for most of the film, Sheen is left to carry scenes on his own merit, which he does expertly.
The narration features his unmistakably husky voice, and helps showcase the film’s strongest point: the script. Aside from the famous napalm line, there are many unheralded gems throughout the script, as well there should be, with the numerous rewrites during filming that Coppola insisted on.
However, as I said earlier, the Redux version has a few flaws. Many of the restored scenes sap the film of its rhythm and direction. And being over 3 hours long, I can only describe it simply as too much of a good thing. So by all means watch it, but get the original. And tell me how it is.