There are so many classic moments in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” but my favorite is often overlooked — the most important character moment in the trilogy.
Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone has just discovered that a rival family paid off the police to leave his father (Marlon Brando) unprotected in his hospital bed. The five bullets that put the Don down didn’t do the job, so now they want to finish it.
Up till now, Michael’s been presented to us as a baby-faced war hero– an innocent who wants no part of the life. (“That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”) But it’s at this moment that we not only discover what Michael’s made of, he does, as well.
Though both are unarmed, Michael grabs a friend of his father’s who’s come for a visit — a nervous cake baker – and the two men stand in the shadows outside the hospital entrance looking as menacing as they can in the hopes of scaring off the would-be assassins. After an incredibly tense beat, the bluff works.
The men drive off and the baker’s so shaken he can’t light his own cigarette.
Hands steady as a surgeon, Micheal lights it for him. And the moment I love is when Michael is as surprised as we are at the sight of his rock-steady hands.
It’s a small thing; a flash, but monumentally important. It’s the moment Michael not only realizes he can handle himself in his father’s world, but that he likes it.