THE GODFATHER (1972)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography by Gordon Willis
Just in time for Francis Ford Coppola’s birthday today, The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series returns this week with his most famous movie, and one of the most acclaimed films of all time: The Godfather. So much has been said about this gangster epic over the 50 years since its release, with cinematographer Gordon Willis’s brilliant work just being one of the elements that have been discussed at length, so there isn’t really much else I myself can add other than echoing what many others have said before me. With that said, this is probably the most challenging HMWYBS episode I’ve participated in because The Godfather is such a celebrated classic with a wealth of iconic images to choose from… but somehow I narrowed it down to a few favorites to highlight here. Though with another viewing I could just as easily pick a different handful of shots from what I’ve picked out.
There’s plenty of violence throughout The Godfather, but some of the more striking images of the carnage come in these distant wide shots. I love the contrast of the bright oranges spilled over onto the wet, black street as Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is gunned down. And then there’s this famous murder scene playing out inside a car that is presented from afar, making the brutality of the act that much colder, with the Statue of Liberty serving as visual commentary for the so-called American dream the characters are trying to achieve by any means necessary.
A final, intimate moment between father and son, as Vito expresses his reluctance for Michael (Al Pacino) to take over his role as the head of the Corleone mafia family instead of holding a more legitimate position of power. Where there was once a glint of warmth on Michael’s face as an outsider of the family is now a sense of darkness in his eyes as he accepts his future, while his father drops the facade of a stoic leader, visibly pained by what’s become of his family despite his best efforts to protect them from harm.
Before going into my pick for the best shot, I just want to quickly highlight a couple more honorable mentions as a lead-up to my ultimate choice. This sequence comes as Michael finds out his father has been shot, and while his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) was there when they found out the news, she’s essentially left in the dark, on the outside looking in as he calls his family.
For me, the best shot of The Godfather is one of its very last images. Michael denies his involvement with a recent string of killings, relieving Kay’s suspicions… at least temporarily. Though Kay has observed the progression of Michael’s role in his family, she can’t fully face the truth of the kind of man she married and what he’s on his way to becoming until it’s too late for her to realize for herself.
Be sure to check out what others have chosen as their best shot from The Godfather here!