I believe the reason that, "The Godfather", is such a great film is because it lets audiences decide whether they like the characters or not. Too many movies made about organized crime begin with some seemingly random act of violence. "The Godfather", however, lets it be known from the start to judge the characters in the film based on what type of person they are instead of the criminal activities they may engage in.
The film begins with a wedding, and this setting sets the stage for the basic theme of the movie, which is family. "The Godfather", isn't necessarily about organized crime. Crime is merely the family business, and crime is the way in which the author of the novel in which this film is based on used to set up the interactions and conflicts between the members of the Corleone family. In fact, this film could probably work even without the Mafia themes. At heart it is just a movie about the structure of a family from generation to generation.
The themes of the film are timeless, but the historical period in which the film takes place is also very significant. As the movie begins, the family's youngest son has just recently returned from World War II. As the movie progresses, parallels are made between the Corleone family and the rest of the world. The war between the rival families is much like the conflicts between nations during World War II. After Don Corleone is shot in the streets, it's a wake up call to the rest of the family that he will not live forever. Thus begins a period of transition for the Corleone family as attention is shifted towards the future of the family business. What also astounds me with this film is that while it is set in the 1940's, it still looks as if it could believably take place in almost any part of the twentieth century.
Another major theme in the movie is loyalty. While Don Corleone is in the hospital recovering from the shooting, his youngest son Michael...