A millennial watches The Godfather for the first time: 50 years on, it is still a masterpiece

No matter how many more films get inspired from it, there can never be another The Godfather.

The 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic films of our times seems like the perfect opportunity to fill a gap in my knowledge of cinema. For all these years, I would either sheepishly acknowledge not having seen the Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece or just nod and smile when people spoke about The Godfather. The “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business” or “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli” memes had no special meaning for me, and when Kamal Haasan or Ram Gopal Varma paid “homage” to the film, the references were lost on me.
Not that I had anything against The Godfather. Amid the plethora of films, TV shows and OTT, we just never made it to first name basis. Yes, well meaning friends suggested the film, and I would ho-hum. There was always something interesting (and new!) to watch, and The Godfather was pushed to the to-do list. And then, on the film’s 50th century, I capitulated.
I sat down and watched the three-hour film which is called the best mob film ever made. Well, I have news, The Godfather is one of the best films ever made. Period. You would say I am 50 years too late. But I am so happy basking in the glow of the inspired performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall — to name just a few — to care.
From the moment we meet Don Corleone talking about justice in the middle of a family celebration to the credit roll, I sat transfixed. Coppola managed to capture the grittiness of the mafia world in all its gory glory as much as the importance of family. The film’s densely layered dark narrative and its meticulous attention to detail of the period it inhabits make it as brilliant today as it was in 1972 when it was released.
The Godfather is the story of a mafia don, Don Vito Corleone, played remarkably by Marlon Brando, who is the eponymous ‘Godfather’. He is a man who holds more power than the police (in the opening scene, he questions the angry father of an abuse victim why he went to the police instead of coming to him for justice) and there’s nobody who can touch him. You know he’s a criminal and yet the power he holds over all he surveys, and by extension the audience, is breathtaking. How can you hate a man who rolls out such nuggets — “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man” — or plays innocently in park with his grandson? And, after him, it’s his reluctant son Michael Corleone, played by then-newcomer Al Pacino, who assumes the mantle of the godfather, as Vito withers away with age.
Watching the film over half a century after it came out, the narrative sounded familiar; the film has turned into a Bible for many filmmakers who have made movies on gangsters. And, you do not even need anyone to underline it. A mere look at many gangster films, and now even web series, is proof enough. There are scenes of the film which have been replicated as it is (watch Sarkar and Rajneeti to find exact copies of The Godfather scenes). To me, The Godfather is a timeless film, whose narrative has been retreaded too many times in films across the world, including here in India. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.
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Also, I read the crime saga was critiqued for glorifying violence at the time of its release. But to me, it never felt daunting to watch people being shot in the head, or a severed head of a dead horse landing in places it was not supposed to be. It seems we have stronger stomachs than the audience back in the day for violence.
And those performances! Al Pacino’s controlled and measured act as Michael Corleone makes the character what it is today. He carries Michael with grace and style, belying the fact that he is indeed a feared crime boss. He starts off as a young war hero uninterested in his father’s dark world of crime. But when his family is under attack, he takes the reins and how! Talking about his character, Pacino recently said, “I felt it was mapped out for me.” I cannot agree more.