“I think cinema, movies and magic have always been closely associated.” – Francis Ford Coppola
...because sure, it's almost three hours long, but there's a reason "The Godfather" is always in the conversations about the greatest American films. Francis Ford Coppola's epic about the Corleone crime family elevated the gangster movie above its tired genre conventions. With landmark performances from Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, the film boasts one of the most impressive casts ever assembled. An examination of family, power and the American dream, "The Godfather" is a rich psychological portrait that has defined the Mafia in popular culture.
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In writing "The Godfather," Francis Ford Coppola and author Mario Puzo rejected the traditional archetypes and clichés of gangster films. Instead they focused on the psychology of the characters which created the impression of viewing the Mafia from the inside. By turning the usual villains into sympathetic, relatable human beings, "The Godfather" seems to create a new code of morality centered on family and loyalty outside the law. At the same time, the story isn't intended to romanticize the Corleone family and its codes. They and the other Mafia families run cut-throat corporations, sometimes in a literal sense. By the end of the film, the often repeated distinction between what's business and personal gets blurred. Michael Corleone's consolidation of power by the end of the film proves both a savvy business move, but also settles all his – and by proxy, his family's – vendettas.
While filming in true color was still relatively recent when "The Godfather" was made, Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis made the radical decision to use dark lighting for most of the film. The dark tones in interior spaces create a rich, expressive atmosphere that fits the overall mood of the film. "The Godfather" deals with the internal lives of its characters, all of whom live in a grandiose but very violent world. Coppola and Willis even took the film's use of lighting one step further, using it to convey character changes throughout the film. However, to really appreciate this feature, you need to see "The Godfather" in a theater whenever it's possible. The film has been artificially brightened for television viewing.
In casting "The Godfather," Coppola essentially brought together two generations of method actors to portray the Corleone family and their associates. Marlon Brando's performance has become so iconic that it's transcended the countless parodies and practically shaped our vision of the Mafia. He so fully inhabited the character to the point that, when Brando picked up a stray cat wandering around the set, it became Don Vito Corleone's cat, a brilliant character detail that added a contrasting tenderness to a powerful and dangerous man. Coppola also fought to cast the unknown Al Pacino for Michael Corleone, launching the career of someone who would become one of his generation's greatest actors. And all of this is in addition to the brilliant performances by Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and Abe Vigoda. Even with all this collective talent, including the oversized persona of Brando, every actor maintains a dedication to the character in service of the greater story the film is telling.
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