It’s a funny old world. I was called into the Directors office this morning for what I assumed was news of two weeks notice – my contract with Southwark was always agreed at three months (which expired last week) and they are hemorrhaging consultants all over the place due to cost efficiency drives. That’s fine, it’s expected (I’ve been given two hours notice of termination in the past), it’s the game I’m in and that’s how the industry works. I walked out with a three month extension and an exceptionally strong push to take on a future permanent role that they would construct around my recommendations – she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. There, I’ll bet you were wondering where I was going with that in a post about the Don of all crime movies, ‘The Godfather‘ which my local cinema once again excelled in picking up as part of its national limited digital big screen re-release.
Do we really need a synopsis? OK then, it is the late 1940s in New York and Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando, iconic) is, in the parlance of organized crime, a “godfather” or “don,” the head of a Mafia family. Michael (Al Pacino in his breakthrough role) initially uninvolved with the family business has returned a war hero from Europe and arrives at the wedding of his sister, Connie (Talia Shire), with his non-Italian girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton), who inquisitively learns about the family “business.” A few months later Don Vito barely survives an assassination attempt fron mobsters hired by a drug-trafficking rival whose request for solace from the Corleones’ political influence was rejected. After saving his father from a second assassination attempt, Michael persuades his quick tempered elder brother, Sonny (a feisty James Caan), and family advisor, consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and that he should be the one to exact revenge….
So much of the movie has entered the lexicon of cinema thus it’s quite difficult to dismantle its legendary reputation and take a fresh look at the film, I tried to be as dispassionate as possible but it was impossible not to be astounded on almost every level. It’s the American Dream writ large, the unceasing seduction of more power, more wealth and just how tenuous that position of authority can be – a couple of punks armed with .38′s can bring it all crashing down. As always with these new prints it looked fantastic, Gordon ‘The Prince Of Darkness’ Willis submerging the drama into a cloaked world of violence, betrayal and murder. The Nino Rota score is perfect, the performances are all perfect, as Kubrick once said it is a strong contender for the best cast movie ever made, from the central roles down to the granite faces of the criminal foot soldiers. Walter Murch’s post production strokes of élan such as the match cuts and sound design on the central murder scene, the impeccable re-creation of the late 1940′s from designer Dean Tavoularis, they all blend to make this a sumptuous cinematic feast. Oh, and that’s Michael Chapman listed there as the camera operator, he would go on to photograph a few Scorsese’s and some other classics.
If someone held a gun to my head and instructed me to give the best film acting performance ever I would have to elect Pacino in both Godfathers I and II, it’s not the most original choice I know but it doesn’t distract from his volcanic, internal, brooding achievement, quite the reverse of the explosive, attention seeking performances that he’s subsequently delivered. I love the minutiae of detail in the film, the guns adapted to make a lot more noise and scare off witnesses, the Machiavellian maneuvering of the competing criminal dynasties, the almost Shakespearean tragedy seething in every scene. One strange thing was the lack of dialogue subtitles when Michael is talking with Sollozzo and McClusky as seen here, they were completely absent yet earlier in the film when characters are speaking Sicilian the subtitles are present and correct – weird. I’d heard on one of my podcasts the complaint that digital screenings sometimes mis-align the dialogue track so you see actors lips moving with a delayed sound, something which apparently wrecked the premiere of the new print of ‘An American Werewolf in London‘ at Frightfest this year and something I did occasionally notice during both screenings of Scarface and The Thing. Thankfully the technicians at the Cineworld seem to have cracked this one as there were no irritating distractions such as that at this screening. So lets close with the operatic conclusion of Michael’s ascent – or should that be descent – to Godfather with the ruthless execution of the bosses of the five families which elevates him to the highest echelon of power. Stunning orchestration eh?