Amid all the threads of family drama at play in the Godfather saga, the main one turns out to be the story of how youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) evolves from nice college kid into ruthless crime boss. After all, the job of leading the family business first appears to fall on Sonny (James Caan), but the hotheaded young man proves to be an easy target for tragedy. Then there’s Fredo (John Cazale), whose name has become anonymous with ineptitude, who ends up betraying the family more out of sheer incompetence than spite. (He resents being passed over, but he means no harm to his younger brother.)
No wonder the task finally falls to Michael, who was never supposed to have the job, since he was sent off to college to help the family gain power legitimately, through politics. But for all his chilly cool, Michael can’t abide any threat to the family, and when he first takes up arms to ambush a rival mobster and a corrupt cop, it’s as much out of Old World codes of vengeance as it is out of self-defense. Michael continues to be his family’s fiercest defender, even when the threat comes from his own foolish brother. Like America in Vietnam, he feels he must destroy the village in order to save it. By the end, Michael has successfully consolidated the family’s power, but he has no one to share his triumph with.
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