Jackson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Francis Ford Coppola’s introduction of the Corleone Family is an ambitious effort to say the least. Boasting a nearly three-hour runtime yet making every single shot feel necessary and getting the absolute best out of every performer. The balance between so many characters is also an intimidating feat on its own as despite really delving in on Michael Corleone and his progression, Coppola also is able to flesh out his brothers Sonny and Tom and his father Vito. And despite this focus on the four primary embers of the Corleone family, every other character is also given enough time for the audience to really understand each motivation and life experience that shaped them.
In looking at the basic premise of the film, The Godfather follows the fall of the Corleone family as it’s Don struggles to keep up with the times both physically — in his dwindling age — and symbolically as he refuses to accept the newer methods of organized crime. An anticipated vacuum is present as despite the Corleone’s not running out of steam, power-hungry groups such as the Tattaglia Family and Sollazzo Organization try to use this state of unbalance to bolster their own strength. Throughout this epic tale of betrayal and struggle, Coppola focuses the lens on the occupationally distant Michael Corleone; a war hero who frequently expresses his disdain for his family’s way of living and how this distant nature shifts in times of stress not just within himself but among his entire family.
Coppola takes his time in the film to develop quite a few concepts in the film including a few as seen in similar Mafia-genre films such as Goodfellas in looking at morality as so frequent are these characters’ philosophies so morally complex and how one tends to justify harsh actions with weak excuses whether that be reinstating primal methods of punishment reminiscent of Hammurabi's code, acting on one’s instinct despite little legitimacy in their own hunch, or even taking one’s superiority to the head and decidedly taking action without taking any consideration from their own contemporaries. This morality ties in with the greater concept of power and examining its use with contrasting yet similar uses on both sides of the legal spectrum which in actuality is more similarly shaped to that of a horseshoe with the revelation of public officials acting in accordance to a select few as opposed to their duty to the people as a whole.
Looking back at the cast in the film and it is no less than stellar with pretty much every primary force being or becoming a name held with high esteem from established Marlon Brando giving an incredibly haunting performance as Vito Corleone to relative newcomer Al Pacino who proves not only his prowess for later gangster roles, but flexing his acting skills which make later performances such as Insomnia and Heat so great. Coppola truly does get some excellent performances out of others such as Robert Duvall who is later used in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in a more defined and exuberant character yet of the consistent quality of Consilergione Tom Hagan and James Caan who has probably the best piece of acting in the film when he gets a phone call from his sister. No dialogue, just slight facial expressions and a drastic shift in emotions become truly haunting.
And while the film is incredible in its vast execution, I was left a bit underwhelmed by a film that is held as one of, if not, the best films of all time. Sure it is quite an enthralling film for being nearly three hours, but for every two brilliant scenes, there is one that makes me really feel the length of the film. I’m not sure if it would help, but it definitely felt like two films in one which could have helped keep the narrative and also keep the story to be one with strong consistency. Additionally, the transitions between characters often feel abrupt and jarring which can be emphasized when the audience is provided with a sharp contrast between a love story in Italy and then a murder in New York. Despite every part feeling necessary in the story, the flow of the plot doesn’t always work.
That being said, there are some brilliant aspects of the film. I personally find tension a hard thing to feel in a film but the ominous footsteps in the hospital truly had an effect on me. Additionally, James Caan’s performance was a pleasure to watch and the score is just beautiful, haunting, fitting, and smart. In actuality despite the hard transitions, Coppola’s ability to make the film incredibly cohesive definitely is deserving of praise. The ability to develop every part of the story so the audience never feels lost or confused is pretty amazing as despite such a complex organization and story were able to be digested in a manner that made complete sense was a standout feature of the film.
While I do have some big complaints with the film and its runtime, The Godfather’s praise makes perfect sense to me. It’s a beautifully shot film with a well-crafted story and Coppola definitely took his time with it. Being the only the second film I’ve seen from him — the other being the unnecessarily long extension that is Apocalypse Now: Redux — I’m excited to see what he has to offer next. A great film that definitely stands as a landmark in cinema.