After an attempt on his father’s life, a by-the-book Marine captain must kill his father’s rivals and become head of his own crime family to protect those he loves.
I prefer my phrasing because the movie is a tragedy of destiny — that’s the hook. It’s more than just a generic, by-the-plot-paradigm mobster movie. It could have been, but in adapting the book Coppola raised the movie to a higher plane.
Even after, he avenges the attempt on his fathers’s life, Michael doesn’t locked into and the objective goal as the next Godfather. For the 1st half of the 2nd Act, he hides out out in Italy, marries a Sicilian woman — he does nothing toward achieving a specific objective goal. His fate, his future is outside his control or design. It’s in the hands of his father who must make peace with his rivals, and grease the wheels of the legal system to enable Michael to return to America.
Only after he returns to America, does Michael begin to take control of the family business. Only then does the process of succession begin. And only because his father resigns himself to his son’s fate — the fate he did not want for his son.
And I”m not so sure that Michael Coreolone “loved his family” in a warm, fuzzy way. He felt duty bound to protect the “family” interests but he had no mercy, no forgiveness for anyone who was not completely loyal to him. He orders the execution of his brother-in-law in the 1st movie, his own brother in the 2nd. So much for family love.
The movie was adapted from a hugely best-selling book. The author, Mario Puzo, made an offer of a sensational and richly embellished tale that Hollywood could not refuse. So it hardly needed a logline.
Still, crafting one anyway is a worthwhile exercise.
It’s not well-emphasized and developed in the opening of the movie, but the reason Michael Corleone shows up at his sister’s wedding in his Army uniform is actually an act of low-key but bold defiance. His father had the political connections get a deferment from the military in World War II for his youngest son (political muscle that got his other 2 sons deferred). But Michael spurned his father’s protection and volunteered to fight.
In the world of the the Sicilian mafia, the Inviolate Rule is family first. Always. No exceptions. And what does Michael do? He violates that rule and then brazenly flaunts his offense by arriving at the wedding as a decorated war hero — yes, but as a son who by his uniform reminds everyone there — and they all knew who he was –that he has placed loyalty to his country ahead of loyalty to his family.
At the start of the movie plot, Michael aspires to become a regular law-abiding American. And a fully assimilated one: his girlfriend is a WASP, not a Sicilian. He wants to escape his father’s fate, have nothing to do with the family ‘business’. That’s his status quo, his initial expectation. (And it’s also his father’s. He tags Michael as son who could transition into the mainstream of American life, maybe become a Senator or even President.)
When Sicilian rivals try to kill a mobster kingpin, the youngest son, who aspires to avoid the mob life, is inexorably dragged into it when he takes revenge.
That’s the plot “clothes line” on which everything hangs.
Michael’s character arc is a tragic one. It’s classic tragedy, as old as the myth of Oedipus. The fate he seeks to escape is the one he ends up fulfilling.
One more thing: I heard a radio interview of Francis Ford Coppola did in January upon release of his “The Godfather Notebook”, a collection of his notes and annotations done while adapting Puzo’s novel. (It’s a treasure trove of insight into his process of rendering a script out of the book.)
Coppola revealed that part of his writing process was to distill the essence of the Godfather saga down to one word. One word to act as his thematic North Star for navigating the plot. It took weeks to find that North Star word. But once he did find it, he never lost sight of it; it steered him straight and true through writing and directing.
His North Star word was: succession.
For Coppola, the script for “The Godfather” is all about succession, saving and passing on the family business to the next generation.
Now there’s a challenge: can you not only boil your plot down to 25 words or less for a logline, but also state the theme in 1 word?
When I watched this film, I was…disappointed. I watched it earlier this year, or late last year, and I had hyped it up in my mind to be something mind-blowing. I wasn’t expecting an action movie or anything, but for whatever reason I wasn’t able to fully engage in the experience of the movie like I usually am able to. So I watched it, I could appreciate the quality film making, but something about it kept me from really engaging with it. I plan to watch it again and maybe I will enjoy it more.
That said, I’m inclined to agree somewhat more with dpg, in that his logline presents more of a hook than just a standard gangster taking revenge logline and better describes the character arc. And I’ve mentioned many times that I believe the hook is the most important part of any logline, followed by the characters and then goal and other elements.
However, I do think Nir Shelter is right that Michael does develop a clear goal during the story that can be described in the logline. So, some sort blend of your logline attempts could uphold both of the points you two are making.
Here’s an attempt: After an attempt on his father’s life, a Marine who wishes to avoid mob life must get revenge and reluctantly take his father’s place as the head of a crime family. (31)
I think combing both of your loglines would best convey the hook and story arc while also clearly defining the goal.