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.
The problem with:
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)
is that you clearly state that Michael wishes to avoid mob life, so then him becoming a head mobster would suggest that he has failed the story plot in a major way.
After an attempt on his father’s life, a Marine reluctantly assumes control of the family crime business to further ensure his family’s safety.
Not sure if we’ve done this one yet or not, but I just posted it as an example on another thread and thought it may be worth while looking into.
My thinking on this is:
Michael Corleone refused to be a part of his family’s crime business – he’s a reluctant hero.
His father is nearly killed by a competing family – a world changing inciting incident.
His brothers are incapable of running the family for them to survive the conflict – Michael’s call to adventure.
Michael realizes he is the only one who can lead the family to safety through this conflict.
He kills the ones responsible for the attempt on his father’s life, runs to avoid the law, then comes back and kills the rest of the rivals, and lastly assumes his rightful place as godfather.
Wouldn’t you say that “… dragged into it when he takes revenge…” lacks a specific action and goal descriptions?
With respect to Putzo’s novel, the film must still revolve around a single sequence of actions towards a goal. I belive that Michael, regardless the back story, is a defiant son at the start and forms a goal to conform to his family’s expectations, all of which would need to be described in the logline with specific actions. Perhaps then:
After an attempt on his father’s life, a law abiding defiant son must kill his father’s rivals and become head of his own crime family to protect those he loves.
Reading through all the comments I have a question. Because this story mirrors The Godfather in so many ways, as noted by the comments, have you thought about flipping the plot in such a way that it elevates the story towards a more high concept /original idea?
Perhaps by doing so we can move away from comparisons to The Godfather and concentrate on why this story is different and important for you to write.
I look forward to seeing more from you.
Michael has an overwhelming sense of responsibility to safeguard his family, whether as a result of love for some of the individuals or a sense of duty for them all, his primary concern becomes the family’s safety after the attack on Vito. Subsequently, his father’s legacy becomes a big part of his intentions as well, something that is directly tied to the family’s safety. His trip to Sicily was a necessary part of his action in killing the chief of police as a means to safeguard his father, without that escape he wouldn’t have been able to live long enough to help the family through the ensuing conflict and ultimately become his father’s successor.
Michael ordered his brother in law’s murder for the sake of the family. Killing the man who beat his sister and seemingly colluded with the enemy is a must for someone like him. Similarly, after he sees how incompetent his brothers are, he realises he has to take control of the family and succeed his father or it will be destroyed.
The second film, albeit an extension of the narrative, is a different plot and therefore a different story. Still, however, the reason he orders his brother to be killed is again, to safeguard the family as a whole. If he were to let him live and allow people to learn that he knew his brother was responsible for the attack, he would have been seen as weak – a death sentence in that world.
I can very clearly see the events motivating Michael to take actions towards achieving his goal. I think the story in The Godfather, multi layered and complex as it is, can still be summed up with events and action descriptions. While your suggestion, with all due respect (there’s a lot there and you know it…) lacks the specificity of his actions and goals which are necessary for understanding Michael’s character.
Perhaps, this is something we’ll have to agree to disagree on.