• The Film
  • The Story
  • The Influence
  • Facts and Figures

The perfect American saga

Although many films about gangsters preceded The Godfather, Coppola’s nuanced treatment of the Corleone family and their associates, and his portrayal of mobsters as characters of considerable psychological depth and complexity was an innovation.

The image of the Mafia as a feudal organization with the Don as both the protector of the small fry and the collector of obligations from them for his services is now a commonplace trope, which The Godfather helped to popularize. Similarly, the recasting of the Don’s family as a figurative “royal family” has spread beyond fictional boundaries into the real world as well – (cf. John Gotti – the “Dapper Don”, and his celebrity family.)

Ironically, The Godfather increased Hollywood’s unsavoury depictions of immigrant Italians in the aftermath of the film and was a recruiting tool for organized crime.
Still, the story is of a piece rooted in immigrant experience as much as it is in the specific circumstances of the Corleones, a family of privilege who live outside the law, are not robbed of their universality yet assume a heroic aspect that is at once admirable and repellent.

Released in a period of intense national cynicism and self-criticism, the American film struck a chord about the dual identities inherent in a nation of immigrants.

Between the two films, Coppola was able to compile the deepest cast in movie history. Not only did he resurrect the career of Marlon Brando, he launched the careers of an entire generation of new actors — Al Pacino (Scarface), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now), James Caan (Misery), John Cazale (The Deer Hunter), Bruno Kirby (When Harry Met Sally) and Talia Shire (Rocky), Coppola’s own sister.

Francis Ford Coppola’s films are widely regarded as the perfect American saga, the most deeply thematic, tone specific, meticulously directed, well written, acted, shot, lit, edited, scored, quoted, imitated, popular, critically acclaimed, culturally significant films in the history of movies.

As the late Sidney Lumet said, “They are as close to perfect movies as I think exists.”