The GodFather Trilogy consists of three crime drama films directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and co-written by Coppola with novelist Mario Puzo. The trilogy traces the life of mafia don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) from the 1940s to the late 1970s. The constituent films in the trilogy were The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Godfather Part III (1990), and were inspired by Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name.
S P O I L E R S
The first film in the Godfather trilogy was a smash hit and award winner and while it introduced our main character of Michael Corleone, the primary focal point of the film was the titular character Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). Completing the main cast were other members of the Corleone family viz. eldest son Santino “Sonny” (James Caan), adopted son Tom Hayden (Robert Duvall), second son Fredo (John Cazale) and daughter Connie (Talia Shire).
But Michael is truly the protagonist as he reluctantly assumes the leadership of the family, when there is an assassination attempt on Vito’s life and Sunny is killed. In the first film, it is clear that Michael has no interest in his Vito’s business, and intends to settle down with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) but gangland turf wars get in the way of his plans.
This chain of events forces Michael into taking control to protect his family and his cold ruthlessness to fortify the family’s position is evident by the end of the first film. In the closing scene, as Kay looks helplessly on, Michael is recognised as the new Godfather, as lackeys pay tribute to him, like they did with his father in the beginning of the film.
The sequel provides us with two narratives – flashback sequences with Vito’s rise to power (with Robert De Niro) while in the present, Michael tries to balance his mafia business with Kay’s objections and resistance. Thus, while he is able to consolidate power in the wake of new threats, his marriage disintegrates. Throughout the film, Michael stays ahead of his enemies one step at a time successfully but loses Kay and his children. But more than that, in taking retribution, ends up also ordering the killing of his disloyal brother, Fredo, and one senses that his soul also is forfeit in that fateful moment.
Director Coppola never intended the series to have a third instalment. However, financial problems forced his hand and he made Godfather III (set in 1979), which while not as potent as the first two films, is eminently watchable for the powerful ending, if nothing else. The entire theme of Godfather III was concerning a sinful man seeking redemption – Michael wanted so much to be rid of his mafia business and to be ‘legitimate’. However, such thinking is a folly as the famous line of the film attests – “Just when I thought I was out…they PULL me back in.” (Fans of The Sopranos will no doubt recognise this!)
By the end of The Godfather Trilogy, Michael Corleone is a husk, a failure, having lost everything he cherished. Perhaps this was his karma for putting the business first before his family – not the Corleone crime family but Kay and their children. Thus, in a sense, it is a cautionary tale – the ends never justify the means. Definitely, The Godfather Trilogy is essential watching – don’t miss this.
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