The Godfather: From the Peak to the End of the Gangster Movie

Francis Ford Coppola surprised the movie world with Mario Puzos The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. This new cut of the third Godfather movie is the "true" ending of The Godfather Saga, though it really ended when The Sopranos came along.

The Godfather: From the Peak to the End of the Gangster Movie
Still from "The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone," Paramount Pictures

Hollywood gangster movies are ultimately about a disillusioned vision of America. The gangster movie was a mainstay of American movies since the 1930s, morality tales about organized crime with the message that "Crime does not pay!", but audiences can vicariously thrill to the transgression of crime and violence before the gangsters get their comeuppance at the end, either by arrest or death. Under the shadow of the pessimism and disillusionment of post-Vietnam War America in the 1970s, Coppola made The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2 as grand statements about American Capitalism. The Godfather movies were allegories about gangsterism as unrestrained, corrupt, capitalism as practiced by immigrants trying to get to the top of the American Dream. Their Shakespearean, operatic grandeur created a fantasy world of corporate business where murder was the logical endgame of endless rivalries and warfare. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) followed a ruthless code of conduct that led him to murder his brother for betrayal and costs him his family.

The Godfather: From the Peak to the End of the Gangster Movie
"The Sopranos," HBO

This grand vision of gangsters was undercut by Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in 1990, which portrayed gangsters as petty, grubby, greedy, and vindictive working-class stiffs. It paved the way for The Sopranos, which took the glamour out of Coppola's fantasy vision. The street-level gangsters of The Sopranos killed off the gangster genre by removing all the mystique from the characters and the genre itself. Tony Soprano and his buddies were constantly struggling for money, ready to turn on each other at the drop of a hat, and beset by family pressure, personal insecurity, and paranoia. They didn't live in glamourous New York but in the suburbs of New Jersey. They've all seen The Godfather and wished they could be as elegant as the Corleones. Life was short for these guys, and when it ended, it wasn't pretty or elegant.

In 6 seasons, The Sopranos pretty much explored virtually every possible angle of gangster life to the point where, by the time it ended, it felt like there were no more gangster stories left to tell. Any movies or TV shows after that would be just retreads of the same tropes of the genre. Broadwalk Empire was one last stab at thematic ambition by going back to the early 20th Century to explore the origins of American gangsterism in its corporatized form as we've come to know it in movies and TV. Since then, gangster movies have stopped being a major trend, now relegated to B movie and VOD status. The genre is largely relegated to TV now, but even shows like Fargo are now nostalgic looks back at the dying glory of fictional gangsters. Not even Scorsese's The Irishman says anything particularly new or insightful.

It's oddly fitting that Mario Puzo's The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone should come out now on Blu-Ray to put a final cap on the genre at its prime. It's quaintly old school and nostalgic, looking back at the glory days and grandeur of the first two movies without achieving their greatness.

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.