The Godfather (review)

Family Values

The American Family Association (Rev. Donald Wildmon’s organization) has this to say in its FAQ:

AFA believes that the entertainment industry… has played a major role in the decline of those values on which our country was founded and which keep a society and its families strong and healthy…. We believe in holding accountable the companies which sponsor programs attacking traditional family values.

What would the AFA have to say about The Godfather? Francis Ford Coppola’s riveting generational saga of Sicilian mob families in New York City is steeped in themes like loyalty to family and the importance of religion, and at the same time demonstrates how dangerous too-close family ties can be.

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando, whose iconic performance has overshadowed an even better turn by Al Pacino as his son Michael) is a man for whom family is all. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” he says, and he lives by that. He’s devoted to his wife, dotes on his children and grandchildren, throws a lavish wedding for his daughter, and kills or threatens anyone who gets in his way or that of his family and friends. His sons are all in the family business, which includes union racketeering and gambling.

All his sons but Michael, that is, the black sheep of the family (or perhaps that should be “white sheep”). A returning war hero as the film opens in the postwar 40s, he has always distanced himself from the family business. But in a time of family need, his fierce loyalty to his father sucks him into the underworld he’s tried to stay out of. Over The Godfather’s three-hour running time, the story of Michael’s transformation from a “civilian” in a mob family into its hard-nosed general never flags.

Is this a film that Donald Wildmon would let his kids watch? After all, Vito Corleone swears “on the souls of my grandchildren”; his position as godfather to many children is looked upon so highly that that becomes his revered title. Those would be good things, wouldn’t they? When Vito’s sons want to move the family into the narcotics business — “a thing of the future,” the family lawyer advises — Vito objects: Drugs are dirty and dangerous. And it’s not just Vito who feels that way — a rival don doesn’t want drugs anywhere near schools and won’t sell to kids. Just say no, no?

Of course, there are all the murders and the beatings and the general mayhem that the Corleones and their rivals wreak. But I guess that just goes to show that maybe the much-vaunted “family values” aren’t quite the solution for the problems that ail us.

Oscars Best Picture 1972
AFI 100 (1998 list): #2

unforgettable movie moment:
A movie producer who refuses a “favor” for Don Corleone wakes up to find the severed head of his beloved — and expensive — racehorse in the bed with him.

previous Best Picture:
1971: The French Connection
next Best Picture:
1973: The Sting

previous AFI 100 film:
1. Citizen Kane
next AFI 100 film:
3: Casablanca

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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