“What the studios want now is ‘risk-free’ films, but with any sort of art, you have to take risks. Not taking risks in art is like not having sex and then expecting there to be children.”
Francis Ford Coppola was a man who took risks with his films. Some of these paid off in a huge way. The Godfather and its sequels basically defined the crime genre and became hugely successful, but there was no precedent for this success. Later, Coppola would take greater risks, some successes and some not. He produced some of the greatest films of all time, but some of his other works were huge flops. He even said of himself, “I probably have genius, but no talent.” That’s alright, because when he hits, he hits hard.
Coppola specializes in modern-day epics. He covers professional criminals and soldiers with the grandiosity and respect of great heroes of myth and history, and his epic heroes want to change the world around them even against all odds. He’s also able to present complex and even questionable morality in a way that feels real and natural, keeping these grandiose characters firmly grounded in reality. It’s an amazing mix, and his hit films maintain this balance expertly.
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“My father taught me many things here—he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
The Godfather was a cultural phenomenon when it came out in 1972 for many reasons. It was extremely well-written, and the cinematography and acting were great. Something that’s lost on modern viewers is how revolutionary the concept was. The Motion Picture Production Code, which was in effect until 1968, prevented things like violence and sex in movies, but it also forbid sympathetic portrayals of criminals. Some movies, like 1968’s Bonnie and Clyde, were quick to make use of this newfound freedom and featured criminals as the protagonists; but none had gone into as much depth as The Godfather. Showing a crime family as a real family, with family dinners and drama, had never been done before.
Two years later, The Godfather: Part II came out and delivered more of the same: fascinating character study and the smallest details of what had become the greatest crime empire in America. Once again directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and starring Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, and Robert Duvall, this is a sequel that’s every bit as good as its predecessor—some say even better. It’s almost required to draw comparisons between the two, so here’s my take: the story was tighter and the quotes more memorable in the original, but the sequel goes into greater depth with the characters and has more emotion. For what it’s worth, I actually preferred the sequel, although both are amazing movies.
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“You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”
The mark of a philosophical film is that it poses tough questions about life without good or easy answers. In that sense, Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) and starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall, is very much a philosophical film, as you’ll probably finish the film with more questions than answers. It’s complex and thought-provoking, dealing with the nature of war and what it does to a man, and it refuses to answer for us what’s truly right or wrong. It’s left entirely up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions from the movie—there’s a good case for (and against) both sides of the argument presented here. This is perhaps the most thought-provoking movie to cover the Vietnam War, and that’s saying a lot, as there have been some great movies to cover that era.
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“Don’t tell me you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and makes me very angry.”
Truth be told, I’m a little nervous about reviewing The Godfather. What more can I say about one of the most famous movies of all time? Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, and, come on, he directed The Godfather) and starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, this is considered not only the best crime movie of all time, but it’s also in the top three picks for best movie of all time (along with Citizen Kane and Casablanca). It’s so iconic and classic that it’s been referenced and parodied countless times, and phrases like “sleeping with the fishes” are now part of the common lexicon. And I had never seen it until this week. Did it live up to the hype? Yes, absolutely.
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