This is possibly one of the best film trilogies I have ever watched. Yes, they're bloody and violent, just as the book was, but there was real truth and depth to these stories; a family bound by honor, a father who would move heaven and earth for his children, a son who must carry a legacy he never wanted and a generational lifestyle that has defined a remarkable culture. Before Mario Puzo wrote "The Godfather" the mafia lifestyle was the stereotype 'goons with guns.' Audiences never thought that beyond the violence, the secrets and lies, were real families who were deeply ingrained in their culture and their love of life.
The Corleone family is just a small representation of a Mafioso family lifestyle. They fight, they laugh, they mourn, they hate and love with equal measure and betrayal is the ultimate unforgivable sin. They're sinners, saints, adulterers, murderers and dreamers. Family goes beyond blood, sometimes it's found in acceptance and loyalty. Yet, at the same time, family can also be used as validation for crime and chaos. The questionable theme of 'how far do you go to save those you love?' is repeated over and over again. Does the murder of one man to save your dying child allow you to toss your humanity to the wind? And is betrayal so deeply wounding that you would kill the one you swore to protect?
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Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is one of the most powerful and respected dons of the "Five Families" in New York. Running his 'family business' in his Long Beach compound, he is affectionately known as 'Godfather' and spends his days hearing the pleas of wronged friends who have sought his help to extract justice for their enemies. Benevolent but ruthless, Vito's business runs smoothly, efficiently and with no consequences; only the desired results of their inhumane actions.
Of Vito's four lively children his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), wants nothing to do with the family business. All Michael wants is an honest and legitimate life as a business man, married to his longtime girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) and create a life separate from the one he grew up in. While the family looks down on Michael in disdain for his independence from his father's home, Vito actual wants Michael to break free and live his own life, because he knows that Michael is the only one of his children with the will and wherewithal to live legitimately and honestly.
|Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his beloved father, Vito (Marlon Brando)|
When war breaks out between the Five Families and Vito almost dies in an assassination attempt, Michael puts aside all his dreams of honest living and finds himself embroiled in the bloody Mafioso war. After the death of loved ones becomes too much for Vito, he calls an end to the war and brings a new time of peace between the 'Five Families.' As Vito becomes older and weaker, Michael slowly begins to step into his father's place as the next Godfather, but in his own effort to protect his family from another war, Michael begins to descend into a secret second life of revenge, murder and vindication.
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The Godfather: Part II
Two stories of two great men coincide in what is considered the greatest of all the Godfather films. In 1901, nine year old Vito Andolini escapes from a bloody Mafia chieftain in Corleone, Sicily and is secretly put on a ship headed to New York where he is alone with no family, no home and possibly no hope of survival. As time goes by, Vito (Robert De Niro) eventually marries and starts a family, but is struggling to put food on the table, especially when the the neighborhood thug, Don Fanucci has every innocent person under his thumb.
Out of desperation to save his sickly son, Vito and a small band of friends hatch a plot to bring down Fanucci and give to the small home city the freedom and justice they deserve. After Vito kills Fanucci, he soon becomes the new Don and makes a name for himself as a just and noble leader and so begins the legend of 'The Godfather' of Long Beach, New York. What Vito doesn't know is that his descendant Michael will become more bloody and ruthless than he ever imagined.
|Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro)|
Fast forward the late 1950s, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Michael Corleone has run Mafia operations and family negotiations successfully for seven years. In a sense, Michael is happy with his wife and children. It may not be the life he dreamed of as a young man, but he has his family as well as extended members that rely on him for support and protection. When the family compound comes under a surprise attack, Michael goes on an extreme search that takes him from Vegas to Cuba in order to track down the man responsible for threatening his family.
As Michael descends deeper into anger and hatred for those that oppose him, he becomes a stranger to his wife and children. Eventually, Kay can take no more of Michael and his Mafia life and leaves him. Slowly, Michael's once perfect world begins to fall around him, but he reaches his ultimate destruction when he discovers the family member that betrayed him. Now, he must make the impossible decision to either forgive wrongs or carry out justice in the name of 'family preservation.'
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The Godfather: Part III
When his brother's illegitimate upstart son, Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) asks him for help in a personal feud with another Mafia don Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), Michael takes in wild and rash Vince in hopes of grooming him to take over the family business, as his own son has left to pursue a career in music instead of law and business. While Vincent grows into his role as future don, he finds himself falling in love with Michael's beautiful, but naive daughter, Mary. Knowing that this relationship will cause nothing but heartache and disaster, Michael tells Vince to end his relationship with Mary before she finds herself in danger.
|Vincent Marcini (Andy Garcia) with his mentor, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)|
After a bloody Massacre of Mafia leaders in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a new war begins and Michael once again finds himself caught in the middle of treachery and turmoil. While trying to protect his family, Michael begins to reflect on his younger life and the sins of his past. In a final effort to redeem himself, Michael confesses his sins to kindly Cardinal Lamberto and finally freeing himself from years of guilt and regret. While Michael believes that God may forgive him, his suffering is far from over and the cost of his sins may be more than he can ever bear.
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Dark, gritty and gruesome, The Godfather is not an easy series to get through and it's quite a lot to take in at first. While the story is about an unexpected and unwanted family legacy, it also highlights the traditions and customs of Italian-American's and their over-abounding love of family and life. Vito and Michael both made hard decisions that molded them into great men, but while Vito's greatness made him a hero, Michael's made him a monster that slowly grew overtime. Redemption and forgiveness are hardly acceptable ideals in the Mafioso, but it is what they secretly strive for in the end and not to be remembered as powerful dons, but as regular men who did the best they could for the ones that they loved.