100 Movies You Need to See Before You Die

The Godfather (1972)

Country: USA
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenwriters: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton

Francis Ford Coppola adapted Mario Puzo pulpy novel The Godfather into a atmospheric meditation on America and capitalism innocence lost—essentially the meat of all gangster movies. Gangster movies, the good ones especially, are almost always about the failure of the America (so the failure of capitalism) to protect and nurture its people. America won't do it, and so other organizations—the mob—will try to. But these organizations will just commit the same sins. Only watching them befall a small cast of characters resonates in a bigger way than any macroeconomic report will. 

"I believe in America." These are the first words spoken in Coppola's film, and the dimly lit images of violence and corruption will do everything to dissuade you of that belief. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has long resisted the family business. Because he believed in America. And so he went to war. Only, the family business needs him. His ascension within that business (and his simultaneous fall from grace) makes for one of cinema's sympathetic villains.

Virtually all gangster movies seek to cover this ground. It's just that none of them do it with the beauty or gravitas of The Godfather. —RS

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