A Detailed Review Of Francis Ford Coppola's Film The Godfather

Categories: The Godfather

Final Film Critique

“The Godfather” has become a cult movie for the whole generation, and simultaneously, it still is not perceived as a sample of old cinematography, instead, this film charms the contemporaries with its timeless genius.

Part 1 Analysis

Contextual Information

Success of “The Godfather” is not occasional, as numerous professionals have worked thoroughly and scrupulously on it.

To begin with, the whole movie is based on the novel of the same name, written by Mario Puzo, world-wide famous as bestseller.

No doubt, this fact itself is sufficient to make a favorable prognosis as regards the movie, based on it.

Nevertheless, even the best idea or story needs the mastery of other professionals to succeed as a feature-film. Hence, being directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and produced by Albert S. Ruddy, with Gordon Wills as responsible for cinematography, and Nino Rota – for music, “The Godfather” turned out in the right hands.

Although from today’s perspective the choices of key figures of this movie production seem irreplaceable and imminent, in fact, the route of finding the right person for every single place was rather difficult.

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The actual cooperation among Paramount Pictures, Coppola and Puzo was not a bed of roses initially. Instead – many misunderstanding – from nuances of screenplay to actors’ candidatures – have arisen, but fortunately for the world cinema, everything was eventually concluded with “The Godfather” in the version, known and loved everywhere.

Figures of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as Vito and Michael Corleone respectively are acknowledged and recognized as perfect images of heads of the paradoxically noble and criminal families.

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Vito’s sons - reckless “Sonny” Corleone played by James Caan, Fredo Corleone, embodied by John Cazale, and Robert Duvall in the role of adopted son Tom Hagen, cold mind, the only non-Italian, and family’s consigliere, complement the rich patchwork of Corleone family, brought up under the proud Sicilian sun.

The female part of cast - Talia Shire as Connie Corleone, Simonetta Stefanelli as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone and eventually - Diane Keaton as Kay Adams-Corleone – have also become the symbols of women fate and role in the family, decisive for considered movie.

No doubt, it is impossible to imagine anyone else as actor for each of the characters. It means that actors’ work has reached its excellence, as their dedication and effort have granted to the world real embodiment of Corleone family.

Having been released in 1972, this crime film has taken the first place in the ranking by American Film Institute in the genre “gangster film”.

Story and Plot

Movie’s story can be reintroduced very shortly, namely, it’s the following: the struggling of Corleone’s family as regards the maintenance of the status of the most influential crime family. Although the story does not sound like exclusively new or thrilling, it is the plot, which determines its uniqueness.

In particular, what makes a plot different from a story, is the combination of casual links among events and right emphasizes. In “The Godfather” such elements of plot are of especial importance, distinguishing this very motion picture from the hundreds of similar stories. As Thomson (2010) has highlighted, “The Godfather is a feast of a movie”, “film of the forties in its nostalgic décor”, “with the plot rooted in sinister charm of action foreseen, spelled out and finally delivered” (n. p.).

The plot makes the story sound very convincing and intimate to the audience, transforming the mafia story into the sketch from real family life. Beginning at the magnificent Connie’s wedding, the plot gradually acquaints a viewer with main figures – the youngest son Michael and the head of the family – Don Vito Corleone – who even at the greatest of celebrations is to remain open for the requests of his so-called god-children.

The plot proceeds with the Corleone’s family dismissal of granting the protection to newly-established narcotics business, which leads to the murder of Luca Brasi, attempt at Vito and Michael’s first involvement in family’s “business”. During the warfare among the most influential mafia families Sonny lost his life. Car bomb was installed to kill Michael as well, but by chance it took life of Apollonia, his first wife, which he married in Sicily.

Michael’s grief slowly transforms in the revenge desire, and he officially enters the family business, whereas his wife Kay Adams accepts his assurances on transforming it in the legitimate one as soon as possible. After Vito passed away because of heart attack, several more betrayals, bribes and conspiracies took place against Corleone family.

Simultaneously with the ceremony of christening of Connie’s baby, Corleone’s capos are ordered to kill those dons, who were proved to be involved in malicious agreements against Corleone family. The last scene, when arrived capos refer to Michael as to Don Corleone dispels Kay’s belief in her husband’s innocence.

The emphasizes within the plot, hard to be noticed at first glance, but clear if attentive analysis is applied, are of great importance for the success of the whole motion picture. The fact that the plot pays attention to the moments, which make the family closer to the audience, reveal their strengths and weaknesses, allow the plot to be considered as the art sample itself.

Aesthetic Choices

To begin with, the overarching narrative and theme of the film are exceptionally brilliant because of the efficacy of specific techniques and design elements employed in the film. Coppola’s talent and visionary cinematic capabilities converted Puzo’s bestseller into a family story about loyalty, power, conflict and regeneration, and used the global reach of movie capacities to reveal the very nature of power (Bapis, 2008, p. 181).

What is of utmost importance is the movie’s mise en scène. Skillful lightning admires a viewer form the first scene, when Vito listens to the request of his godson, with his eyes in the dark, and does not become any weaker to the very last scene, in which both Kay and Michael are in the shot, and their placement, camera focus and light concentration show the irreparable distance between them, caused by Michael’s decision as new don. This game with angles and shots used becomes very decisive for the understanding of the whole movie, as it frequently underlines the meaning of particular scenes.

The use of the color and light is wisely elaborated during the whole movie. Dark shadows and lack of bright tones are aimed at the concealment of unfair practices and conspiracies, whereas rare use of contrast tones (red flower in Vito’s costume, bright colors of Connie’s wedding, kitten in the shot, light tones of Sicily) is intended to testify that common life is intrinsic for mafia dons as well.

The costuming choices deserve special attention: Coppola makes the audience enjoy as realistic life of Italian-Americans as possible: expensive dark suits, luxurious cars and enormously frequently used weapon fully amount to the one’s image of mafia. Such high-quality embodiment has become classical for the whole generations.

As for the sound, the reiteration of Nino Rota’s “Speak Softly Love” has unforgettable effect: this music theme accompanies the protagonists in joy and in grief, and without any word loudly voices the main idea about life’s unstoppable flow and the family metaphor.

Special effects are of outstanding importance as well. The scene with severed (actually) horse’s head shocks with its cruelty, and is also decisive for the understanding of law and fairness, holy for mafia families. This scene assures that Corleone deeply reject chaos and disorder, whereas family is perceived as the only loving, although mysterious and dark, home, standing up for an old fine order, no matter that slaughter and graft are their trades (Thomson, 2010, n. p.).

Moreover, all the scenes of slaughter (e.g. when Sonny’s car was riddled with submachine gun fire) are filmed extremely vivid, which provided to “The Godfather” the reputation of motion picture with perfectly screened special effects.

It is also important to emphasize the location of the scene, especially the picturesque landscape of Sicilian village.

Social Impact

The film in question has an extremely significant impact on society. The recognition of audience and the unanimous acknowledgement of critics has witnessed its decisive influence on the movie industry for many future decades.

It cannot be concluded that “The Godfather” indirectly propagandized the cruelty, violence and slaughter as the method of family’s dignity defence. However, the numerous cruel scenes cannot be acknowledged as the ones, which advocate such lifestyle. Instead, movie with admiring credibility picture the life and struggle of families, which in reality existed (whereas in Italy they are said to continue their notorious fame) in society, revealing their codes of honour, aspirations and achievements. Therefore, it cannot be said that society was subjected to negative influence.

Instead, as the film was the child of its time, legal attention was paid to the existence of such groups of people, with many attempts to convince them to take a legitimate side. In addition, world cultural heritage was enriched with the contribution of mobsters, who in fact paradoxically, with their special customs, traditions and rules, are the part of universal inheritance.

As Santopietro (2012) has eloquently highlighted, “The Godfather” may have helped define the zeitgeist of the early 1970s, but it has stood the test of time, working both as an epic multigenerational saga and as the story of one family, being filled with mood-setting cinematography, haunting music and now-legendary performances of Pacino and Brando (p. 148).

Part 2 Reflection

Film analysis, apart from opening the eyes to more accurate understanding of the meaning and value of the particular motion picture, has turned out to become very advantageous for the whole personality.

To begin with, it has changed the way of viewing the movies once for all. Previously, merely words, voiced by protagonists and events depicted were the glasses through which the meaning of the film was perceived. After the analysis of “The Godfather” mise en scène would not be silent anymore, as lighting, sound, the angle of the shot are in fact the separate characters of the movie, which are eager to reveal the secret sense of any film to the one, who is ready to perceive these signs.

Film theory and criticism would become my irreplaceable tools for the interpretation, as all the theoretical notions become alive when they are applied to the analysis of the certain movie. For instance, I mainly applied genre theory to the analysis of “The Godfather”, as all its elements have been mainly compared to the fact that this is how the story goes in the gangster film. No doubt, if analyze it from the perspective of e.g. auteur theory, then new answers would be derived.

Estimating the social impact, I’ve also understood that movies are not merely a kind of entertainment. In fact, they are frequently children of their epoch and if the film is worth of its watching, then the society response would be immediate, as the movie has enough power to influence people’s affairs and views. What is more, the movie power can be used for any aims, as film’s impact can be not only positive, but negative as well.

All in all, this course on film studies has helped me to develop critical thinking, creativity and attentiveness for details, which definitely are advantageous for the professional work. Moreover, critical mind is the feature, which in positive light distinguishes personalities, who are able to create and inspire, understanding what is valueable, and what does not deserve any attention. Therefore, I’m eager to develop these skills further, practicing the movie analysis again and again.

Summarizing the analysis of the “The Godfather”, it is important to reiterate the initial thesis that this cult movie has stood the test of time, being simultaneously a sample of perfect cinematography of 1970s and also the movie, which is impossible to outshine till today.

Works cited

  1. Cowie, P. (1997). The Godfather book. Da Capo Press.
  2. Kagan, N. (2012). The Cinema of Oliver Stone. Continuum International Publishing Group.
  3. Leydon, J. (2019). The Godfather Movie Guide. Rough Guides.
  4. Lebo, H. (2015). The Godfather Legacy: The Untold Story of the Making of the Classic Godfather Trilogy. Simon and Schuster.
  5. Puzo, M. (2002). The Godfather. Random House Publishing Group.
  6. Schatz, T. (2010). The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. University of Minnesota Press.
  7. Thompson, D. (2010). The Godfather. British Film Institute.
  8. Wagner, M. (2008). Hollywood as Historian: American Film in a Cultural Context. Peter Lang Publishing.
  9. Willis, R. (2004). The Godfather: Anatomy of a Film. Macmillan International Higher Education.
  10. Benson, T. (1997). The Godfather Companion: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About All Three Godfather Films. Harper Perennial.
Updated: Feb 19, 2024
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A Detailed Review Of Francis Ford Coppola's Film The Godfather. (2024, Feb 19). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-detailed-review-of-francis-ford-coppolas-film-the-godfather-essay

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