The death of Virgil Sollozzo in the first Godfather film from Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most important scenes in the entire narrative, and perhaps the tipping point for the character of Michael Corleone.
You know Virgil, he’s the main antagonist of that first film, the man running drugs who came to Don Corleone for money and support only to be turned away because the Don didn’t care for the effects of Sollozzo’s product on the community. Sollozzo in turn forms the idea that if the Don was out of the way, his hothead son Sonny might become head of the family and take the drug deal. This sets off a series of attacks that culminate in the attempted assassination of Don Corleone. When it comes time to decide just who’s going to even the decks, Michael surprises everyone by taking the assignment himself. He meets with Sollozzo at Louis Restaurant and the two men calmly, dispassionately arrive at a truce. Michael excuses himself to freshen up, and in the restroom retrieves a pistol left for him there, which he then uses to shoot Sollozzo dead, thus violently instigating the Five Families War.
Not only does the biggest conflict of the film start with Sollozzo’s death, it’s also the first real division we see between the Corleone boys – Sonny’s penchant for bad behavior, Michael’s obsession with duty – and it is the first time we see just how far Michael is willing to go to keep his family intact and in power; it is, ostensibly, the moment we learn he has what it takes to become the next Godfather. This scene is one of the tensest and most important of the first film and indeed the entire saga, and even as written it is a taut nail-biter that could explode at any second.
In another excellent video from Glass Distortion as a part of their ongoing Script to Screen series, the scene in Louis Restaurant between Michael and Sollozzo which ends in Sollozzo’s death gets the analysis. Here you can watch the entire thing unfold while following along with the superimposed script to see just how precisely Coppola stuck to the narrative from Mario Puzo, where he deviated, and how the finished product was made more powerful by the balance between the two. Glass Distortion has done several of these videos based on memorable scenes – like Luke’s dream of fighting Vader in Empire, the hotel shootout scene in No Country For Old Men, the chase through Gotham in The Dark Knight — but this is easily the most significant scene they’ve done to date, not to mention the most famous. And once again the insight granted by something as simple as reading along with the action reveals a choreography of conversation punctuated by violence that ripples through both the films and film history. This is must-watch stuff, see it and share it.