Wednesday, October 31, 2012

THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974) – Award Winning Sequel

The movie The Godfather, Part II is my opinion not as good as the original.  It was wishing for too much to hope that the sequel would ever be as good, and we miss the presence of Marlon Brando playing the character of Vito Corleone.  Also, juxtaposing the two stories of father and son side-by-side in the sequel may seem fashionable, but it wasn’t as successful as director Francis Ford Coppola may have hoped.
I’ve never been satisfied with the flashback scenes in this movie, despite an Academy Award going to Robert De Niro as a young Vito Corleone.  These scenes are well choreographed and well acted.  Still, the young Corleone played by De Niro is not the same entity as the older Corleone played by Brando.  The young Vito in Part II joins the underworld only for magnanimous reasons and - despite the carrying off a pair of revenge killings - we never see the sinister side to the young Vito that comes out so starkly every time Brando came on the scene during the original Godfather.
Nevertheless, Al Pacino as Michael Corleone plays his part consistently powerful in both of the first two films, and his counterpart, Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth adds a dimension that was missing in the first film by providing Michael with a worthy adversary that we get to know in depth.
The film is 200 minutes long.  It features the cat-and-mouse game that Michael and Roth play in trying to best each other.  There are also the great side plots concerning betrayal by Michael’s one remaining brother, Fredo (John Cazale) and a betrayal by an old friend of the family, Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo).  Both feel left out of the family business and, disastrously, attempt to sidestep Michael’s authority. 
The major women in the film play far smaller parts.  Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), Michael’s only sister, tries to hurt Michael by letting her life go into disarray.  In the end she rejoins Michael.  Kay (Diane Keaton), Michael’s wife, on the other hand hurts Michael almost as much as any character shown in either the original or the sequel by aborting Michael’s baby.  (Only in the poorly made Godfather, Part III would Michael have ever dreamed of forgiving her.)
Like the original, The Godfather, Part II is a glossy and violent soap opera.  Michael is so believably corrupted by the end of the film that he begins assassinating old enemies, old friends and even a brother – none of which any longer serve as a threat to him.  Michael keeps around a corrupt Senator (G.D. Spradlin) only because the Senator still proves to be useful for him.  Even his most loyal follower, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), a stepbrother to Michael, is no longer completely trusted.
In the end, Michael outsmarts everyone but himself.  Whatever victories he achieves as the undisputed head of the Mafia, Michael achieves no satisfaction.  He has made good on the promise that he made to his father in the original Godfather to be with him always, and it has rotted away his conscience.  There is nothing left of the young and sensitive man that volunteered to fight when America went to war in Germany and Japan.  Only the brain is still functioning.  The rest of Michael becomes a cipher.
Coppola may be one of the best storytellers in film since movies began.  In his major early efforts (The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, Apocalypse Now), Coppola had the skills to hold a loose story together.  He has not been successful at doing that since that time. 
In any case, Coppola directed three of the more powerful movies from the 1970s – the kinds of which we have never seen remade by anyone.  Coppola did it by taking chances.
October 31, 2012
© Robert S. Miller 2012