The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

"I believe in America..."

The first words of the film are spoken over a black screen and accompanied by the overwhelming portent of Nino Rota's funereal score. As we fade out of the dark, but by no means into the light, for over two minutes Gordon Willis' camera zooms out: an undertaker recounts an Italian immigrant's tale of family tragedy, shattered innocence, and a loss of faith in the dream promised by America. He's come to the right place.

The Godfather remains an incomparable filmmaking accomplishment; crafted with supreme confidence and sheer skill surging through every aspect of production.

After seeing it in the theatre for the first time in 1972, Steven Spielberg returned home defeated and began to reconsider his career options; so certain was he that you couldn't make a better film than this.

While Francis Ford Coppola's vision of the Italian immigrant experience in America is filled with a disarming authenticity within the details. It's also characterised by moments of pure cinema in its impressionistic violence and Shakespearian sense of tragedy.

At the centre of it all is Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone; an audacious performance of deep feeling that exhibits complete command over presence on screen. His albeit warped moral authority embodies the film. So his growing absence through the second half is felt. Without him, there's a real sense that something has been lost.

Al Pacino as his youngest son Michael comes to take over the family business. He walks a path to self-destruction that appears to twist and contort the shape of his face. His eyes darken with sinister intent. His expression hardens. Although we first meet Michael as a War veteran, there's still an innocence to his appearance, soft speech, and outsider, almost insurgent, status within the family. All of it dragged away by circumstance.

Whether there was ever any choice for him but to inhabit this identity is the central question Coppola explores. Operating under his father's shadow, Michael is able to justify his criminality as somehow furthering an ostensible ambition of attaining future legitimacy for the family business.

It's a lie. One passed down through generations to help redeem consciences. As a social actor playing within the field of an Italian family in the business of organised crime, the social systems of capitalism in America, mean Michael was likely never going to escape this fate.