“Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother. You’re not a friend. I don’t wanna know you or what you do. I don’t wanna see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won’t be there. You understand?” – Michael Corleone.
Many who know me personally know that I am an evangelist when it comes to Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather series. Yes, even the third one. And Mario Puzo’s book is the best I have ever read. In my humble opinion, not only does the series have two of the greatest films of all time, they also have some of the best characters ever committed to film or book and in the case of Michael Corleone, The Godfather gives us the greatest villain of all time.
The performance by Al Pacino in this series, especially the first two films, is the reason why I love movies – it does Pacino a disservice to call the performance outstanding, it’s mind boggling. The closest actor that I have seen do anything similar to what Pacino achieved is Bryan Cranston. Cranston is rightly lauded for his performance as Walter White in Breaking Bad, but what he achieves over 62 episodes (which average over an hour each) Pacino does in 6 hours. I truly believe that the character arch of showing a character’s journey from being a hero (or a good guy) to a villain is so hard to pull off, especially in the space of one movie.
And the way we experience Michael’s journey from World War 2 hero who doesn’t want anything to do with the ‘family business’ to a hardened mob boss who orders the death of his own brother is so convincing that it makes you shudder – but it is also thrilling. It’s thrilling and it’s also very meticulous – because never do you feel like the films are rushing Michael’s story. You see this person who rightly didn’t want to be tainted by his family slowly, very slowly, lose his soul. He loses his soul to the extent that killing a family member is nothing more than a business transaction to him.
The story of Michael Corleone is tragic – he is in my opinion the most ruthless villain on this list, but he didn’t have to turn out the way he did. Like all tragic figures, he believed he sacrificed his soul for something worthy – his family.
My Top 10 Greatest Villains
1 – Michael Corleone (The Godfather)