Francis Ford Coppola's Film The Godfather: Michael's Rise in Power

Categories: Novel Plot The Godfather


The Godfather is a gangster novel adaptation by director Francis Ford Coppola. It begins with a lavish Corleone wedding, with most of the guests enjoying themselves and having a good time. Don Vito Corleone uses this wedding as an opportunity to take questions and requests as the head of the gangster family, the Corleones. He is referred to formally as “Godfather”, and takes it as a sign of disrespect when he is not addressed as such. Michael Corleone is the youngest of the Corleones, and he attends the wedding, not long returned from military service as a Marine.

A family friend asks the Godfather for help getting an acting job, and the movie director refuses until he is threatened with a severed horse head in his bed. Sollozzo of the Tattaglia crime family makes a request for support in narcotics dealing, but the Don declines. He remains suspicious and sends Luca Brasi to spy on Sollozzo. Don Corleone is then gunned down in his next public appearance, and consigliere (advisor) Tom Hagen is kidnapped.

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Tom is released after being told to get the Corleones to accept the deal, and the Don survives. Michael goes to visit his father in the hospital, and suspects another attempt on his life after he finds that the guards that were supposed to protect the Don have left. Michael stops it, but is beat up by the police captain, who happens to be Sollozzo’s bodyguard. Sonny, the oldest Corleone son and acting Don, hires a contract to kill Tattaglia’s son.

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Michael, being the farthest away from the family business and most inconspicuous, is planned to have dinner with Sollozzo and his bodyguard to “accept the deal”. At dinner, they plan to have Michael kill both of them. A gun is planted in the restroom, and Michael kills them both, making a clean getaway. He is sent to Italy to avoid the messiness and aftermath of the killing. Sonny continues to act while the Don recovers. He goes to intimidate his sister’s husband for beating her. When Sonny sees more bruises on his sister, he goes to teach him another lesson, but he is killed on the way there by a rival family. In Italy, Michael is having a great time, meeting the lovely Apollonia, but he is devastated when she is killed in a rigged car bomb, intended to kill Michael. The Don Corleone hears of Sonny’s killing, and he once again takes the reins, but calls Michael back from Italy. Once he is returned and married to his American girlfriend, Michael takes charge, with the Don Corleone being his advisor for the time being. The two meet, and the Don warns Michael that whoever asks him to meet with Barzini is the traitor. Michael then visits his brother Fredo and another casino owner, who he tries to buy out. Michael derides his brother for taking the casino owner’s side. Not too long after, Don Corleone dies of old age. Tessio asks Michael to meet with Barzini at the Don’s funeral. Michael has the other family Dons killed while he attends his sister’s son’s baptism. He personally sees to the death of his sister’s husband, who was integral in the killing of Sonny. His sister accuses him of these acts, but he denies it in front of his wife. The film concludes with Michael being referred to as Don Corleone.

The Godfather has some absolutely impeccable performances. Al Pacino steals the show as Michael and his fall into ruthlessness, and he was rightfully angry when he was only nominated for Best Supporting Actor while Brando wins Best Actor. Pacino’s best scene was the final one, when his calm exterior is broken when his wife asks if he killed the others. He denies it while regaining his stoicism, and his coldness during his reassuring hug was something that could only be shown with the smallest nuances of acting. Marlon Brando also was phenomenal in his role as the Godfather, showing this from his first moment on screen. When he is disrespected and not referred to as “Godfather”, he displays an enormous sense of power, authority, and influence when he corrects him. James Caan as Sonny was great as well, showing his recklessness. You could sense his anger in the moments before his death, rushing to get justice for his sister. Overall, the acting in The Godfather was one of its strongest points and partly why it’s so highly regarded in cinema.

The Godfather is seen by the American Film Institute as the second-best film ever made, and it is hard to dispute that. The cinematography was absolutely beautiful, the shots most outstanding being the early views of Don Vito Corleone. Light and camera angles portrayed him as being the most influential and powerful man in the room in an ever so subtle way. The casting and acting was perfection, as already talked about. The characters were all well-rounded, and this was illustrated so perfectly throughout the arc of the film. The only thing that could be complained about was the length. The Godfather is long for a reason - it tells the story over a long period of time, and through this shows the character progression of Michael from somebody who wants nothing to do with the mafia life to the leader of it. However, it could be cut down a significant amount of time by getting rid of a lot of the expository elements in the early stages. These expository stages gave useful information, but these themes were reiterated later in the film, so it was unnecessary.

There are two major themes present in The Godfather. The first is that authority and power affects people in different ways. We see this in the differences drawn between Don Vito Corleone and Don Michael Corleone. Vito is as close to honorable you can get in the mafia business, wanting respect more than anything. He tries to avoid warring between the families, and tries to keep the circle in times of peace. Michael does things his father would have never approved of in his lifetime, like killing the other family dons en masse. He starts off as the one farthest from being involved in the business, but as he gets more influence, he ultimately becomes more ruthless than Vito would ever be. The second is that loyalty and integrity are what get you places in life. We see this foremost in Tessio, an old friend of Vito’s. Tessio is the one to betray Michael and send him to his would-be assassination, but he is stopped. He is loved for being so loyal throughout the years, but as soon as the family is betrayed, he is sent to his execution. He says to “Tell Michael it was only business. I always liked him.” He is not brutalized for his loyalty and honesty, but he realizes he must be killed because he chose business over loyalty in the end.

The Godfather is a film that anyone of age should see. It is regarded as the second-best film of all-time, and for a good reason. Its greatness in each and every aspect is only hindered by its length as a movie itself, but it makes good use of that time by completing a beautifully tragic character arc in Don Michael Corleone. It is not recommendable to anybody impatient, as it is long, but it is worth the watch. The Godfather is rated R appropriately, as it tells a mature story with nudity, graphic violence, language, and adult themes all around. The film’s popularity really parallels Michael himself - depicted is his rise in power and fall from humanity and compassion. The Godfather has only risen as it brought about a new standard for film.

Updated: Feb 19, 2024
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Francis Ford Coppola's Film The Godfather: Michael's Rise in Power. (2024, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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