You can't help but come to watch the Godfather with a lot of preconceptions. It was always a film I just never got around to watching, but when I saw it was Number 1 in the Internet Movie Database Chart of greatest ever films I just had to watch it. Now I've seen it, I don't know if I'd call it the greatest ever, but it is certainly a dazzling film that stands up to repeated viewings and has quality stamped all over it from beginning to end. I never realised how big an impact the film had, for example, I didn't realise that 'swim with the fishes' and 'I'll make him an offer he can't refuse' came from the Godfather.
All of the acting performances are great. Al Pacino really surprised me with his charismatic performance as Michael Corleone, the man who changes from a war hero not involved in the family business to a man at the very heart of his crime family. By the end of the film I literally could not drag my eyes away from him, he has such a strong and powerful presence, which is amazing considering that I didn't think he was the most imposing of men at first glance. There is something inevitable about Michael's transformation, and to me it was his own decision - what he does, he does willingly, with his eyes wide open to the consequences. Perhaps that is the most chilling - and tragic - thing of all about this film.
Marlon Brando was also great as Don Vito Corleone. He gives truly a unique performance and somehow manages to make his whole face, body, voice and general demeanour take on the persona of his character - something that, unfortunately, few actors achieve. As I said, all the performances were great, but I just have to mention Robert Duvall, who plays Tom Hagen, the Don's adopted son and right hand man, with a seriousness and depth that was very impressive. James Caan was also great at the short-tempered son who was never going to be suitable to become Don. Finally, it was great to see Talia Shire, who was so good in Rocky, play a completely different character with the same level of competence.
One of my only criticisms of the film is that after the wonderful intense love story between Michael and Appollina ends so sadly, the movie seems to speed up and the years go by too quickly. I would have liked more explanation about why Michael goes back to Kay and what he was feeling at the time. I kind of felt that was left unresolved to some extent.
The 'Godfather' also highlights the utter futility of a life of murder and crime. If someone kills a member of your family, you must kill one of theirs, and then they kill someone else and so on...The 'family' must be protected at all costs, but this protection takes the form of violence, vengeance and control, and is ultimately - and ironically - what pulls the family apart. One of the most interesting ideas about the film for me is what the notion of 'respect' and 'honour' actually mean - and whether these things can ever be gained through murder and fear.
The role of women in the film is also fascinating. Kay and Michael are in love at the beginning, but he still leaves her and ends up marrying Appollina, with whom he falls in love with in a very different way. Kay is the wrong woman for Michael as she is too outspoken and doesn't want the Corleone family to continue with a life of crime. She should have said no to his proposal, but she was still 'in love' with the Michael she used to know before he decided to take over from his father. The ideal wife for Michael was Appollina, who would have been exactly like his own mother - quietly raising children and never asking about the business. Michael's power, magnetic presence and protectiveness are undoutedbly very attractive, and I found myself in the weird situation of being repelled by his actions and yet drawn towards these qualities. In the long run, though, being married to that type of man means a woman has to remain childlike - never discussing important matters or asking questions. In addition, the women are complicit to the violence, they know it goes on even if they say nothing - crucially they all know they are raising their own children for more of the same.
Overall, I'd say the Godfather stands up to the hype surrounding it, which is an amazing achievement in itself! It's a serious, entertaining and compelling film that makes you think. Like everybody else, I'm sure, I just wish there were more films made that manage to reach these heights.