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The Godfather Revisited

Then there are all the other things he got rightpitch perfect casting; rich shadowy cinematography; exquisitely paced editing. Watching Al Pacinos carefully modulated performance as Michael Coreleone made me rant with rage over the fact that he was passed over for an Oscar for this but won for

Scent of a Woman

. As Michael, Pacino shows us exactly whats meant by less is more. You can feel the emotional chill taking over his character, yet his cool control is foreshadowed from his first scene. Pacino's performance is a stunning display of cinematic acting. Plus there's a flawless supporting cast that includes James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Sterling Hayden, Richard Conte, and so many more.

Visually, the film reaps the benefits of Gordon Willis cinematography that makes use of shadows and darkness in ways that filmmakers now seem to have forgotten. The blacks feel like rich velvet enveloping the characters, and then Willis adds in a warm honey glow that provides a bold contrast to the brutality of mob life.

Sonny getting gunned down in The Godfather (Paramount)

The violence, which caused such a stir when the film was released in 1972, still proves shocking because its handled so well and carries emotional weight. When Sonnys massacred at the toll booth, Coppola chooses to have one of the thugs kick the dead corpse in the head, that unnecessary bit of cruelty (it's only done as an insult to the slain mobster) makes the scene a notch more disturbing. Its Coppola's eye for those small details that makes the film so good. And what Coppola also does that films like The Bourne Ultimatum fail to do is to use pace as a dramatic tool. The Bourne Ultimatum had one pace--fast. But you need quiet scenes to play off of the abrupt violence, the contrast makes a film more effective. The violence in The Godfather remains shocking because it stands out in bold relief to the warm scenes of family life.

I urge anyone who hasnt watched The Godfather in years or who has never seen the film, to seek it out. This is Coppola at his finestlocking horns with the studios and fighting for his vision. An artist like Coppola seems to respond well to limitationsthe more Paramount tried to reign him in, the cleverer and the more determined he became. But when given free reignas on One from the Heart the lack of obstacles seemed to make him less creative and be less in control of his vision.

The Godfather is a classic. Revel in this masterpiece.

Companion viewing: The Godfather II, The Godfather III, The Conversation

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