"The Godfather Part II"
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Written by Mario Puzo and Coppola, 200 minutes, Rated R.
By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti
The first "Godfather" film, a masterpiece all on its own, chronicled the fall of Don Vito Corleone and the rise of his son Michael as he inherits the family crime syndicate. It tells an effective and heartwrenching story of familial conflict and responsibility. "The Godfather Part II," one of the few film sequels ever made that is widely considered on par with its predecessor (and is sometimes even considered an improvement), takes that original material and uses it as a means of exploring an even greater tragedy--not only the demise (in multiple ways) of an entire family, but how the family was fated to fail from the very start.
Unlike the first film, "Part II" follows two different plotlines in two different time periods. One follows the current life of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as head of the crime family. The other follows his father, Vito (Robert De Niro), as he escapes from a crime-filled Sicily to New York City, where he slowly moves up in society where he will ultimately become the Don who Marlon Brando portrayed in the first film.
The parallel stories are quite telling of how different Vito and Michael run the syndicate--Vito, a man of immense honor who finds the motives and workings of most of the crime families in Sicily and New York reprehensible, begins a life of crime because it is truly the only way he can support his poor family. He also is tired of how the crime bosses throughout the city manipulate and bring fear to every Average Joe they can, taking hard earned money from them and threatening them should they refuse. Despite the overall illegalities of Vito's exploits, he has a sense of justice and a moral code that he finds the other crime bosses simply do not have.
On the other side of the coin we have Michael, who has become head of the family business through sheer fate--he grew up away from crime, was a good military man, and only began heading the family because he had to. He has no strict moral code--he generally makes decisions for selfish reasons and he doesn't understand why his father started the business in the first place. Quite basically, it's a mess, and he can't even manage to find support from his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) or his family. He is vengeful, spiteful and overall not the man his father was. Sure, they're both criminals, but even Vito could understand integrity, responsibility, and honor. He would never kill a man if it wasn't for a reason--and he would certainly never hurt anyone in his family. Such cannot be said of poor Michael, so overwhelmed by his sudden power that it corrupts every fiber of his being resulting in the alienation of everyone around him.
"Part II" is a far darker film than its predecessor. There is no hope to be found here--if "The Godfather" was a story of tragedy placated by hope, "Part II" is a tragedy that takes hope and murders it with a baseball bat on a fishing boat.
As in the first film, the performances are absolutely incredible here. A lot of the previous cast (except those killed) return, including Robert Duvall as the Corleone family lawyer and advisor Tom Hagen and John Cazale as Michael's black sheep brother Fredo, who has a much more substantial role this time around (and this would be Cazale's third film appearance of only five before his unfortunate death in 1978).
Coppola, who filmed the first "Godfather" in a very low-key and intimate manner, works similarly here, except he films the young Vito scenes in a slightly sepia and grainy tone, which works beautifully to capture the time frame (1920s) and to separate it from Michael's plotline without needing to acknowledge where we are everytime the film transitions. And, as with the first film, Coppola steadily mounts the tension as the film progresses, leading up to one of the greatest endings (and really, final acts in general) in cinema history.
I'm not quite with the folks who say "Part II" is better than the first--it's obviously a masterwork and it is pretty much right on par, but there is a level of uniqueness and emotion to the first that the sequel doesn't quite match. Still, the two work extremely well as a pair (I've yet to see the third), and they are both made thematically stronger by each other. In pretty much every way they are companion pieces, and though they work extraordinarily well on their own, they are made all the better when considered as one all-encompassing epic.
View the movie trailer for "The Godfather Part II" below. What are your thoughts?