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Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold.
May 08, 2008 08:50 AM 7720 Views

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"Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good."- Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, AD 1513.


I've thought long and hard how to tackle such an awesome book as Mario Puzo's'The Godfather' and Francis Ford Coppola's celluloid realisation of the work. I am still wondering if I am biting off more than I can chew. To do it justice, I've decided to'review' the cinematic rendition of the tale for the reason that I believe that it truly brings Puzo's vision to life and the man himself worked hard with Coppola to make it so. The quote from Machiavelli is a profound start to this as the'The Godfather' combines two great literary works together into one tale. The first being Machiavelli's, sometimes seen as controversial, 'Il Principe'(The Prince) and William Shakespeare's'King Lear'. In terms of'The Prince' many quotations and behaviours of the Mafia organisation dramatised(for good effect!) in'The Godfather' can be attributed to it. Here are a few quotations where you can feel it's influence.


"My Father used to say that revenge is a dish best served cold." - Michael Corleone.


"It's not personal, Sonny, its purely business."(and not often completed as "and everything in business is personal") - Michael Corleone.


"I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." - Michael Corleone.


"And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies then they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you." - Don Vito Corleone.


"Never let them know what you are thinking." - Don Vito Corleone.


In terms of'King Lear', and this gets us into the heart of the tale itself, 'The Godfather' is a tale of an ageing King, his three sons, a mighty empire about to enter a fateful war, the death of the King and his unlikely successor. It's a tale of manipulation, politics, deceit, sometimes violence and corruption. Don Vito Corleone(played by Marlon Brando, at the time seen as an acting has-been) is the King of the Empire or Mafia Boss, Godfather, Capo di capos. Sonny Corleone(James Caan), the Don's eldest son and Mafia Family under boss, who is rough, tough, street-smart but also a hot-head who frequently acts before thinking. Fredo Corleone(John Cazale), the second son, who is affable, weak and too much of a party-boy("Poor sweet Fredo" as his sister Connie refers to him). Michael Corleone(Al Pacino), the youngest son, a decorated WWII veteran, college boy who doesn't want to be a Mafioso(a desire supported by his father Vito).


I don't want to ruin the plot of the tale because I really want you to go pick-up the book and read it or get the DVD and watch it, or preferably both. I just want to share my thoughts with you about the performances, rather than regurgitate the script!


Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone is magnificent and nothing like the sad parodies of a man in a penguin suit with cotton wool stuffed in his cheeks, that we used to see in spoofs and comedies. At the time Brando was seen as washed-up and without a future in the film industry, many others had been auditioned for the part… could you imagine Ernest Borgnine in the role?! Brando bought an impressive regal-ness to the part as well as displaying fatherly and grandfatherly qualities. As in King Lear his actual death is not dramatic but natural, even sad(like Shakespeare's'King Lear, the simple word's'He died'). Brando commands respect and also captures your affection for a man who although a criminal boss does have principles and clearly loves his family. His desire to be legitimate and for Michael to be'clean' of all Mafia connections is key to a decision that leads to an assassination attempt on him and temporary weakening of the family's strength in New York.


James Caan was a great casting choice; the strong, proud, Heir-apparent to the Corleone Family. As a street guy in straight forward, 'who's the toughest' there's no doubt it's Sonny Corleone. But his penchant for using force to solve issues, and that with little provocation, is his downfall. James plays him larger than life, he's not a bully but he is certainly'he who should be obeyed.' His end is dramatic and Coppola ensured that such a Titan went down in a blaze. It would have been a sin to allow such a character to simply'just die'.


The late John Cazale as Fredo Corleone, carries an unenviable character casting very well. He's happy go lucky but can't handle emotionally tense situations well and tends to cave-in whether it be witnessing his Father's attempted assassination or controlling Moe Green in Las Vegas, 'Poor sweet Fredo' just isn't a man of action, more of a child who surrenders to events. Cazale makes him a pitiable character, you can't hate him but he's just not a real man. This was Cazale's first major film role in a brief career that lasted until his death in 1978.


Al Pacino carries off Michael Corleone with great skill. His casting was another risk as this was only his third film and also his first major Hollywood roll. Remember that as you watch him transform from being a college boy to becoming the next boss of the Corleone Family. The three key moments of this change are when he moves his bed ridden father in the hospital to protect him from a second assassination attempt(what words pass from him to his father), convincing Sonny that he has a plan to deal with the ring leaders who orchestrated the shooting of their dad and then his gunning down(murders to be blunt) of the main culprit behind his father's assassination and corrupt opposing Mafia Family controlled New York Police Commissioner in a small Italian restaurant. Listen to Pacino's voice, mannerisms and charisma develop through the film.


Like I said, I don't want to ruin the films for you or bore you to tears with a re-writing of the script. There are other actors in the film, true but the ones I've mentioned are the ones at the helm of the Corleone Family. One thing I urge you to do is watch this film first before you watch'The Godfather Part 2'(sometimes seen as even better than the first, although at the time it didn't get generous treatment by the film critics) and'Part 3.'


I know it's an'old' film but it's a classic and I can't think of an in-depth epic saga like this since it's conception(oh and the music is brilliant too!).


I hope by saying very little, or nothing, that I've convinced you to watch and read!


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