Even when these three films are categorized by many as just a great gangster saga, they are more than just that. They are about the disintegration and tragedy of an immigrant Italian family. Director Francis Ford Coppola, with a remarkable cast, recreates the story of Michael Corleone and his family from the Mario Puzo‘s novel.
Michael (Al Pacino) is a young man serving in the U.S army who wants to stay away from his “family’s” business, the mafia in the late 1940’s. His father, Vito (Marlon Brando), his older brothers Sonny (James Caan), Fredo (John Cazale) and Tom (Robert Duvall) patronize him constantly until Don Vito is gunned down and is Michael who takes the responsibility to avenge him, a decision that will mark his life forever.
Godfather I, made in 1972, presents how Michael becomes the Corleone’s leader; Godfather II (1974) shows the beginning and background of Michael’s father, Vito, his arrival in New York, and later becoming a young man (Robert De Niro) surviving in the Italian ghetto. Director Coppola masterfully interchanges this past with Michael’s present and how he becomes a merciless person by killing even one of his brothers for his “Family’s sake.”
Godfather III (1990) is about Michael’s search for redemption. He’s now old and regretful, wants to leave all illicit business behind, but finds himself dragged back to the mayhem unleashed by enemies such as Don Altobelo (Eli Wallach).
The first two movies are impeccable masterpieces in storytelling. The third didn’t live up to many purists expectations, suffered from weak casting, and offended the Almighty Catholic Church. These being some of the reasons to be dismissed by many, and branded as a poor afterthought by Coppola and Puzo, however, I disagree. Although its first half takes some time, the story slowly but surely redeems itself becoming more believable and complete when showing us Michael’s tormented conscience, health issues, hopes of personal redemption, and finally, tragedy.
With a memorable score by Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola in all three movies, exquisite cinematography by Gordon Willis recreating 1900s’ Ellis Island and New York’s Little Italy, this family drama is a delightful journey to watch and admire excellent performances by Brando, Pacino, De Niro, Duvall, Cazale, Caan, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton and all the other minor but important roles played by a good team of talented actors.
See also by Marlon Brando: Burn! ( 1969), The Ugly American (1963).
See also by Al Pacino: You Don’t Know Jack (2010), …And Justice For All (1979), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), , Serpico (1973), Scarface (1983).
See also by Robert De Niro: Men of Honor (2000), The Fan ( 1996), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), Awakenings (1990), The Mission (1986).