Views from the Sofa’s 100 Greatest Scenes is a list of the 100 greatest moments in the movies. This could be long introductions, moments of action or great dialogue between characters. The scenes are in no particular order and come from many different types of movies.
There have been many great restaurant scenes in movies. It could be a whole post dedicated to the topic. When you mention “The Restaurant Scene” to most people though, only one will spring to mind. It is the scene that defined a character and helped make one iconic, movie masterpiece into a powerhouse trilogy.
Greatest Scene Number 31: The Godfather – The Restaurant Scene
The key to this scene is the transformation. Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is the “good son” of the family. He is the hero soldier and the man who never got involved in the family business. After an attack on his family, they decide that he would be the only one who could get close enough to those responsible and send a message that would shatter their worlds and ultimately his world.
This is the role that would make Pacino the acting icon he is today and this kind of scene is the perfect example. He looks nervous. He is about to take two men’s lives in cold-blood but he must remain as calm and stoic as he can. The audience is the only one in on the secret, that there is a plan to execute and no matter what is being said, these two men will die.
That is why it doesn’t matter when Michael and his target, Al Lettieri’s Sollozzo, speak Italian. Director Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t bother to subtitle or translate the conversation because the conversation itself is irrelevant. This man, and his pasta eating associate at the table, are going to die. No matter what is said here, the end of the conversation is already determined.
The part of the conversation in English is worth noting. Sollozzo asks for peace and Michael gives him one last chance to save his life (unbeknownst to him). When this doesn’t work, Michael is forced to execute the plan.
The scene in the restaurant bathroom is the beginning of Michael’s transformation. He struggles to find the gun, almost panicking when it isn’t quite where he expects it to be. He then seems to wrestle with the decision, looking at the gun and then taking a moment to compose himself. It is here that the sound of the train begins to get louder, almost like the act that Michael is about to do is just as unstoppable.
What comes next is a perfect execution, both literally and metaphorically. Pacino plays the scene so well, hesitating slightly and then as the sound of the train becomes almost deafening, he shoots both men point-blank and without any remorse. The pause afterwards holds with it the biggest meaning: there is no going back and Michael Corleone is officially part of “The Family Business.”
Overall, The Restaurant Scene in The Godfather is a perfect, iconic cinema moment. It is an example of how to transform a character in one moment and would go on to steer the franchise’s course. It would also be one of the last times we get to see a stoic, underplayed Al Pacino, before he would become the exuberant, shout-the-lines actor he is today.