Yes, yes, I know, this has been out for decades, how can John have lived so long and not seen it ? Well, I think it’s due to a variety of factors, such as the length (it’s nearly three hours), the whole mythos surrounding it (it’s so hyped I felt I was better off not watching it for fear of being disappointed), and one main over-riding factor: I don’t really like gangster films.
It may be because I have a childish and simplified view of the way the audience should identify with the main character, but I rarely feel comfortable when watching films where I’m asked to emotionally invest in characters who are criminals, murderers, or gangsters. I don’t mind if the protagonists are troubled or unsure if they’re doing the right thing or have shades of darkness about them, but fundamentally I want them to be decent and well-meaning. Gangster films are rarely as pleasant as this, and so I tend not to bother watching them as I find myself being uninvolved: “Oh, so Fat Louie’s cutting off Big Tony’s heroin business in Chinatown? Well, aren’t they both drug dealers? Remind me why I should side with one over the other again, will you?”
But a friend lent me the film, so I gave it a go.
And I quite enjoyed it. Granted, it’s rather overshadowed by the fact that parts of it are now pop-cultural currency – the horse’s head, the puffed-out jowls, and some of the dialogue – but I thought it was a pretty decent film. It’s oddly paced, though – the first third or so is all hats and guns and talk of disrespect, and then when Michael legs it to Sicily it looks like a european arthouse film for a while, and then we’re back in the USA for the end again. This last bit didn’t hold my attention as much as the other sections, though this may well be for the reasons mentioned above, as we gradually see Michael becoming his father – if not surpassing his father in terms of scheming and double-crossing. Which is unlikely to be my cup of tea.
But it’s well directed and written, no question about it; the powerful opening scene comes back into play later in the film, I liked the way that Brando’s offscreen for much of the film but nonetheless looms over proceedings, the talk of family and respect was done in a way that seemed convincing, and the violence was suitably unpleasant. And the cast was an ongoing case of ‘wow, didn’t realise THEY were in this too’ for me, as well as providing solid performances.
So, a good film, and possibly a great gangster film, but to me that’s kind of like a ‘great western’ – it’s just not a genre I have a particular interest in – and I might even watch the first sequel (general consensus tends to be that the third one is to be missed at all costs). And who knows ? I might even do so before I’m 50.