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A beginner’s guide to The Godfather trilogy

In the coveted IMDb top 250 movies list on the Internet Movie Database website, The Godfather is ranked second with a score of 9.1 out of 10, closely followed by The Godfather: Part II in third, which has a rating of 9.0 out of 10. Shockingly, The Godfather: Part III has a massively comparable 7.6 out of 10 rating, putting it further from the IMDB top 250 movies list than many would like to acknowledge. Fortunately for the trilogy, the first two were so immensely successful and adored by critics that the saga was automatically judged as one of the greatest in the history of film, totally ignoring the underwhelming box office performance of the third.

Despite my love for film and generally criticising things, I’ve never actually seen any of The Godfather films, not even the one that has become universally recognised as ‘the sh*t one’. In an attempt to fully analyse the genuine quality of these films, I decided to watch all three in succession, only taking breaks to split up the frankly unnecessary combined run-time of nine hours.

Keeping up with the Corleones

All released between 1972 and 1990, The Godfather trilogy follows the Corleone family as it changes hands from the respected Don Vito to son Michael. Transition is one of the main themes of the films, and Michael himself eventually has to deal with his own responsibility of handing the family business down to someone else, but we’ll come to that later.

The first film starts as you’d probably expect from the hundreds upon thousands of references that have come from Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, taking place at a wedding as guests request a favour from Don Vito Corleone. He sits in a dimly lit room surrounded by Robert Duvall, James Caan and Al Pacino, who all look somewhere between 19 and 39. It eventually becomes clear that Michael, played by Al Pacino, is the person that Vito assumes will one day take his place, leaving Sonny, played by James Caan, in an awkward situation, as he’s bound to be left out due to only being adopted by Vito.

Eventually, it becomes clear that this overlying theme of transition and family values will resurface throughout all three films, and that the focus will always be on Michael Corleone and whether or not he’s capable, smart enough and ruthless enough to step out from his father’s shadow and become a carbon copy of him. Not only that, but Al Pacino is required to do the same in order to replace the great Marlon Brando in centre stage.

Barely any Brando whatsoever

It might just be me, but when I started watching the first Godfather film, I assumed that most of my viewing experience would be dominated by Marlon Brando. He’s on every poster of the film, most of the memorable quotes come from him, and everything else points towards it being the Marlon Brando show. However, that was far from the case. Not only does he only feature for around 20 minutes of all three films combined, but he doesn’t even survive the duration of the opening film.

Marlon Brando’s performance is arguably as good as many people say though. He spends most of his time on screen mumbling and lightly growling as those around him look at him with respect and admiration, but you do believe that he is Vito Corleone rather than the lunatic he was in the real world.

You do spend a lot of the film wondering if you have to accept his performance as being brilliant due to how admired he is, but it’s easier to accept he’s a genius and move on. It would be similar to seeing Lionel Messi of Barcelona reach the opposition goal, turn around and run towards his own goalkeeper, where you’d be left with no choice but to assume he’s on to something, even if he blatantly isn’t.

What could possibly make up for a poor third film? Incest, of course!

After more than enough wackings (look it up), an introduction to a little-known actor by the name of Robert DeNiro, and lots of Al Pacino inexplicably screaming, we reach the third and final film in the series. Unlike the first two, nobody argues for its place as the greatest of the three, and with Marlon Brando, Roberto DeNiro, James Caan, Robert Duvall and many others lacking (R.I.P Fredo), the film comes to a gradual end with very little left to cling onto.

The final scene depicts a drawn out yet suspenseful finale, as an assassin disguised as a priest attempts to kill Michael Corleone at the opera while many other deaths occur simultaneously across America and Italy, including the murder of the new pope. All of these are linked to the main plotline, but while Michael Corleone escapes with a mere shot to the shoulder, his daughter Mary Corleone is shockingly and fatally shot in the stomach. Unsurprisingly, this leaves Michael’s ex-wife in a state of shock, and even less surprisingly, Michael opts to scream in the air in classic Al Pacino style.

Another upsetting part of this scene is the reaction of Vincent Corleone – the nephew and protege of Michael Corleone – who is madly in love with Michael’s daughter Mary. Before you even have chance to respond, yes, that does mean that Vincent is looking to pursue his own cousin sexually. But while it’s apparently something that many of the families in The Godfather cinematic universe (GCU) do, Michael completely disagrees with it. He even goes as far as saying that he can take over the family business as long as he cuts ties with his daughter. You’ll be shocked to learn that this eventually led to the death of Mary Corleone, making the entire situation more upsetting than it needed to be.

In brief, it’s clear that Francis Ford Coppola knew he needed to spice up the final film, so he threw a bit of incest in there for flavour. Not only that, but he also cast his daughter Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone to make it even creepier, as you do.

Ironically, after nine hours of viewing, the last thing you want is an abrupt ending

During the unexpected death of Marlon Brando in the first film, where he has a suspected heart attack while playing with his grandson in the garden, we are hit with the news that Vito Corleone doesn’t actually make it past the first film. Although we see Robert DeNiro playing young Vito in the second film, there’s far less Brando than I expected, which in itself was a staggering disappointment.

I’m not sure if I expected any foreshadowing from The Godfather trilogy, but I certainly didn’t expect it from the death of Vito Corleone. Instead, this appeared to be the case, as I witnessed an equally as disappointing and poorly acted death from elderly Michael Corleone at the end of the final film in the trilogy. Both deaths shared the similarity of being abrupt and unexpected, but the second death was even more disappointing, as we skipped from the greying Michael we’d come to know from the third film, to suddenly being shafted with ‘old man Michael’ to tie-off the film as quickly as possible, comparable to the utter mess that was Game Of Thrones Season 8.

So, after nine hours of watching the trials and tribulations of this family, does the ending come to a gradual and natural ending? No. Michael Corleone is suddenly an old man in rocking chair in rural Italy, reacting to his own death like you might react to remembering you forgot to turn the oven off after heating up a panini. This isn’t the sign of how poor the third film was compared to the others, or even a sign that the trilogy was immensely overrated, but more an overwhelming sense of irony that after nine f*cking hours, Francis Ford Coppola still couldn’t conclude his film correctly.

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