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While watching the Godfather I heard this:

Sonny was hot for my deal, wasn't he? And you knew it was the right thing to do...you gotta talk some sense into him. The Tattaglia family is behind me with all their people. The other New York families will go along with anything that will prevent a full-scale war. Let's face it, Tom, and all due respect. The Don, rest in peace, was slippin'. Ten years ago could I have gotten to him?

I'm not clear why they used the past Pr. here. As far as I got,'slip' means to get less or worse in level or quality. So to me, the sentence doesn't make much sense. Maybe you can give a little explanation?

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The Don (Corleone) is presumed dead. He was allegedly murdered by a rival Mafia family over a bad business deal. The Don used to be the most powerful and respected head of the most powerful and influential of the five families of New York.

In this scene, the would-be murderer is speaking. What he's saying when he says The Don "was slippin'" is that he was losing his control, his status, or was getting sloppy in maintaining these things. The killer goes on to say something like "I mean, ten years ago, could I have got to him?" What he's saying with that line is implying that ten years ago, the Don was much more powerful and in control. Ten years ago he would have never been in a position where the murderer could even have a chance to kill him.

Another context that doesn't require so much back story is a sports player. Consider a soccer player who was the best in the league a couple of years ago, but is consistently getting worse. You would say "he is slippin'", meaning that he is a falling from his former greater status.

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You wrote "I heard this" so I assume you have not "read it".

Are you sure that the speaker didn't say, instead: "The Don, rest in peace, was sleepin'." ? This could make sense with the fact that Don is dead, imho.

Maybe the speaking character had an Italian accent (on purpose) and the pronounce could have been similar.

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    The scene he's referring to happens at 43 minutes and 20 seconds into the movie The Godfather. It's definitely "he was slippin'". – user20827 Jun 26 '15 at 11:33

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