SPOILER ALERTClick here to go to my previous review of Apocalypse Now
So again, we have taken a break from chronologically following the top 1000 greatest films of all time to review the film rated number 3 on the list: (after the Shawshank Redemption and the Godfather) the Godfather Part 2.
How it all goes down:
Partly based on Mario Puzo's the Godfather and partly original material, the Godfather Part 2 focuses on two parallel storylines. The first is shown via flashbacks and documents Vito Corleone's (Robert De Niro) rise from a small boy in Sicily to crime boss of New York. The second focuses on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino,) who is now the boss of the Corleone family and his continued struggles to take his family legitimate. His struggles involve him coming up against ruthless Jewish gangstesr, internal family squabbles and treachery in Michael Corleone's personal and professional families.
As a sequel, the Godfather Part 2 has always proved to be popular. It constantly ranked and reviewed highly, although never as popular as its predecessor, upon watching this film I can understand why it is held in such high esteem. The Godfather Part 2 is an awesome film for much of the same reasons the first film was so successful. Technically and stylistically this film works well. I thought that the flashback scenes worked well. I felt that they were incorporated well into the other narrative and the transitions between the two narratives weren't disruptive. I also really liked how the flashback scenes were shot. They begin by showing Vito Corleone as a young boy in Sicily with a harsh yellow filter, which I felt did great with setting the scene. The extreme heat of the location was conveyed well. The other flashbacks have a grainy texture and an old-timey feel. I also really enjoyed learning about Vito Corleone and what caused him to become "the Godfather." I think the film does well in fleshing out Vito Corleone as a character. This section of the film is taken from Mario Puzo's original text and from what I remember, they remain quite faithful to it. Whilst obviously changing minor details, they follow the main story.
Another reason why I liked the flashbacks was that it was a peek into time periods and locations that are foreign to me. I felt that the film was quite realistic in its depiction of Sicily and of early 20th century America. Just like the original, everything felt authentic and real. It was great seeing Vito Corleone walk around 1920s New York and just thinking about how it was different then compared to now.
Robert De Niro plays a young Vito Corleone and I think he is very good within his portrayl. His Vito Corleone is cool and confident, but also a little charismatic and cheeky as well. I thought it was definitely different to Marlon Brando's portrayl. I think that De Niro brought his own spin to the character. He isn't copying Brando, but rather making the character his own. And as a plus, De Niro doesn't mumble nearly as much, which means you don't need to have your volume at full blast to hear him. I also really liked learning all of the minor characters too, such as Vito's future caporegimes Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio and his future consigliori Genco Abbandando, as well as Don Fanucci, the local crime boss that Vito murders and then assumes his position.
I also really liked the Michael Corleone narrative for how it engages with themes of loyalty and family. Whilst Michael has assumed the power and control that his father held, he has certainly not assumed the respect that Vito Corleone commanded. He is constantly being compared to him, which obviously frustrates him.
Michael's older brother Fredo tired of being constantly overlooked and undermined betrays Michael to his enemies in the hopes that he will finally receive his dues. Throughout the book and the first film, Fredo is considered the stupidest and weakest of the Corleone children and is thus mistreated by the family. It is therefore perfectly understandable that he will want to betray Michael so that he can gain some respect. This is where the film works so well in engaging with the theme of loyalty. It was very powerful watching Fredo's protests about how he should finally receive his dues. All credit to John Cazale for his great performance here.
On this note, just like the first film, the acting is strong all hand. Robert Duvall is once again great as family lawyer Tom Hagen and Diane Keaton who plays Michael's wife Kay Adams is also brilliant. However, special credit is reserved for Al Pacino who is outstanding in his role as Michael Corleone. Unlike his father, Michael has a vicious temper, which Al Pacino does brilliantly to portray. The final scene between Pacino and Keaton is one of the best in the film. The acting here is so powerful and so visceral. Kay Adams tells Michael that she is leaving him and is taking their children with her, as she is afraid that they will grow up poisoned by Michael's evilness. In one last shocking revelation, she reveals that she lied to Michael about a miscarriage resulting in her losing her baby, when actually she had it aborted, as she didn't want to bring another child into a world run by men like Michael Corleone. In this scene, the film really forces you to get into the mindset of those living as mobsters and it is intriguing and engaging to see.
What didn't work:
Unfortunately, like its predecessor, this film is not infallible. Whilst watching it, there were a couple of mistakes that are too big to ignore. Firstly, whilst watching this with my dad, he pointed out that it was very silly for Don Fanucci to be walking around in public without any protection, thus making it very easy for Vito Corleone to kill him. I would have to agree with this. As crime boss, you would naturally have a lot of enemies, so it would only make sense that you would have a street boss meaning that you don't have to show your face in public. Failing this, you would at least have bodyguards to protect you. I feel that this is a quite serious error within the film.
The second thing that I didn't like was something they've changed from the book. In the book, Vito's surname is Andolini and he later changes it into Corleone to honour the village in Sicily where he was raised. However, in the film, he becomes known as Vito Corleone due to a clerical error made by one of the immigration officers. I didn't like this change, because for Vito to change his name to Corleone shows a lot of pride in his Italian origin and I think it's important to celebrate this. So, whilst this could be considered quite nitpicky, I still think it's a poor change.
Thirdly, I don't think that this film was paced nearly as well as its predecessor. I found that I much preferred the Vito Corleone narrative than the one involving his son Michael. One reason why I liked these films so much is learning about the Mafia. Vito Corleone's narrative which focuses on his origins story naturally explains more about the Mafia and its structure and purpose. However, in Michael's attempts to legitimise the Corleones, his narrative turns away from the organised crime and instead focuses more on his family and legal problems. After one of his caporegimes becomes an informant, a good portion of the film focuses on the court proceedings that follow. I felt that the film was bogged down with a lot of talking and legal issues and it lacked a lot of the dramatic tension and action, which the film had to offer. Whilst there were some standout moments within Michael's narrative including the scenes with Diane Keaton and John Lazale, but I did find myself getting a little bored at times.
What was ugly:
Kay Adams aborts a child so that it doesn't have to grow up in Michael Corleone's world.
Whilst this is a great film in its own right, it isn't anywhere near as good as its predecessor. The Godfather Part II is a little slow in places and it has a few bad mistakes. That notwithstanding, all in all, it is still a very entertaining film. The acting and narrative are strong and this and the original Godfather are just the long in a very long mile of mob films. There is no doubt that by the film's conclusion, Michael Corleone has become a red dragon.
Click here to go to my review of Red Dragon
Click here to go to my review of Red Dragon