The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

Brando really touches you, you know? He just gets it. When he plays a part - and he gives a shit - he embodies it completely.

He played Don Corleone, a tired, twilight gangster, in his 40s - and yet he's sincerely seamless. Which is so rare. In the best of times, if you squint, you see a person acting, you hear the crunch of the dry paper the words were printed on, then drawled out, hurriedly, from a thoughtless mouth, through an expression that exists solely in and for the moment the scene is staged in. There's seldom a sense of history in a performance, a flurry of conflicted emotions besides the most obvious, contrasting ones.

But you can see the canvas of thoughts and feelings on Don Corleone's face, in his gestures, in his tired movements - or lack thereof. You can feel the past that haunts his bones and oozes out of his disinterested, waving fingers and his contemplative eyes know beyond the point of caring the great power that they wield.

There's even a suggestion of a child that hides behind the husked, old man. The one that wants to be respected, the one that's studied the rules of conduct from the fiery, older kids around him. He's there in that engulfing, the-adults-are-away opening scene, insulted, and in his warm attempt to appease the brooding and stuttering, loyal Luca Brasi. And when he's playing with his grandson in the orange garden.

In more sobering moments, you can see the more seasoned Vito that rose to where he is by consciously embracing the cold ruthlessness that is necessary to survive and succeed in America as an immigrant of his time. Think of him electrifyingly slapping his godson for his desperate whimpering, or of standing up, impassioned, to the other Five Families in order to protect his youngest son, Michael.

His wisest, oldest shade is spread throughout, but it culminates in the abandoned, bitter disappointment he feels when he informs his own consiglieri, Tom Hagen, of who betrayed him. As he ruminates on how his enemies have manipulated him and hurt him, killed his little boy, he's furious it took him so long to reach the 'obvious' conclusion, and he's beyond frustrated that his consiglieri did not know before him - but he accepts the responsibilities that come from the choices he's made, and the ones that he's neglected.

It's an astounding, touching, and captivating performance and a testament to Brando's thorough preparation (which he liked to underplay), and I'll restrain myself from going on at length, as I suspect the most of it's been said before or will be yet, regardless.

The other performances feel perfectly lived in, too, as does the world. And the level of detail is extraordinary. More than any other film I've seen, The Godfather is bursting with stories behind the scenes, both behind the camera and in front of it, often told through seemingly the most innocuous lines and looks, that can only be threaded together upon repeated observation, and careful rumination.

It took time to grow on me, and now I'm genuinely obsessed, rewatching it gleefully every few months. And it all starts with Brando, who was a profoundly kind and sincere man who hated the system that saved and exploited him, who tried to stand up to the injustices of the world and was beaten down for it. He had his flaws and pain - pain he sometimes passed on to others - but the good he had...

Oh, just think. The good he had.

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