I watched The Godfather films for the first time a couple years ago. I got them all out of the library and watched them over the course of the week. I started with the first one on Tuesday, but I didn’t finish it until Thursday because of homework and sleeping and all those other things that get in the way of movie watching, and it’s a fairly long movie. However, by the end of Friday night I had seen the whole trilogy. This is the first time since then that I have rewatched Part II in it’s entirety; I caught a bit of it on AMC one night before going to bed and I will never watch Part III again of my own free will. The first movie had sucked me in though, and I had to finish them all, even if Part II was tearing out my soul and Part III was just plain depressing me.
Part II tells two parallel stories: Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) continued descent into corruption and Vito Corleone’s (played by Robert De Niro as an adult) rise to power in New York. I infinitely prefer the flashbacks to Vito’s rise over the straight up continuation of The Godfather, but I’ll say some more on that later. Michael’s story continues about five years or so after the last film. The Corleone family is established in Nevada, owns several casinos, hotels, and politicians, and is doing pretty well. Just as The Godfather opened with a wedding reception, Part II opens with a celebration of Anthony’s (Michael’s son) first communion. After refusing a request of Pentangeli (the man who has replaced Clemenza, played by Michael V. Gazzo), Michael and Kay are shot at in their bedroom.
Michael, of course, is furious. He takes immediate action and goes to see Pentangeli and then Hyman Roth (Lee Stasberg). Even on the second viewing I’m still kind of confused about what actually goes on here because Michael tells the two of them that the opposite person attempted to assassinate him. In that moment, I cannot tell which person he is lying to and which person he suspects to have tried to kill him. This is one of the highlights of Pacino’s performance for me; how Michael can be so mysterious and manipulative even though at other times I can figure out exactly what’s going on in his head. Anyway, he also suspects that his brother Fredo (John Cazale) might have something to do with it, and I can at least tell when this suspicion is confirmed: the famous “I know it was you, Fredo” scene, which freaks me out in all honesty.
In my opinion, it all goes downhill from this scene. Not in terms of the quality of the film, you understand, which is fantastic the whole way through. It’s so hard for me to watch though because it’s so gut-wrenchingly tragic. I just get the feeling that this is not how things are supposed to go. Michael is not supposed to be testifying at a senate investigation, Fredo is not supposed to be a traitor, Michael and Kay’s relationship is not supposed to get this messed up, and Mike is not supposed to be this cold and brutal. Things were not supposed to get this far. Everything just gets worse and worse for Michael and the family from here on out and the only solace I can get comes from the flashbacks, which is bittersweet at best.
Vito’s story opens in Sicily with his father already dead and his brother getting shot for seeking revenge. His mother pleads with and threatens the local Don to try to keep her son safe, which works just not in the way she hoped. While she is shot, Vito has time to run away and others in the town help him escape to America. “He was nine years old.” Then we see Vito as a young man, struggling with the reality that the greedy and fearsome Don Fanucci controls his neighborhood. He deals with it for awhile, seeing people threatened and losing his job to Fanucci’s nephew, but after Fanucci wants some of the money that Vito, Clemeza, and Tessio have been making he cannot take it any longer. He assassinates Fanucci in a great iconic scene. Copolla uses more religious imagery here; there is some festival going on and a statue of Jesus covered with money is carried through the streets.
After this, Vito’s reputation grows in the neighborhood. In my favorite scene of the film, his wife persuades him to hear a request from a friend of hers hoping that he can get her apartment back for her. He is initially hesitant, but seeing her helplessness agrees. He “make[s] him an offer he can’t refuse” and it’s great hearing De Niro say that classic line. The landlord originally doesn’t get who Vito is, but after he figures it out he gets so panicked that it’s actually kind of funny. I guess it’s funny because we all know that he should’ve listened to the Godfather from day one, but he’s just catching up. The reason I love this scene is because it’s the first time you see the Don fulfilling a request, and also because it puts a different spin on Vito’s wife’s character. She’s almost Lady MacBeth-like in this scene, initiating the whole family business really. I had never really thought of her as anybody with any significance, so this was more eye-opening than anything that was happening with Vito.
Another one of my favorite scenes in this film is actually during present day and not the flashback. Kay tries to leave Michael and take their children with her, and Michael will not allow it. They have it out, big time. I won’t give everything away because half of the impact is the surprise of it, but the main reason I love this scene so much is because I can completely identify with Kay here. When she says “at this moment I feel no love for you, at all” I’m almost right there with her and I totally understand why she’s saying this. This is Kay’s best moment in all of the films, in my opinion. She finally stands up for herself and what’s right, and we can see that the reason that she hasn’t done this before is not because she’s weak, but because she really did love Michael that much. This scene is one of the most powerful in the entire film, and pretty frightening to watch.
I really do like The Godfather better than Part II. It doesn’t really have anything do with which movie is better as much as it has to do with which one I can stand watching. Not that The Godfather is the feel good film of the year or anything, but Part II just feels so wrong and it’s so sad. In The Godfather, things were starting to go downhill. Sollozzo says as much to Tom when he kidnaps him; “ten years ago, could I have gotten him?” I still feel like in The Godfather there’s hope for the family as a whole when Michael takes over, even if he’s clearly deviating from his former path in life. They’ll move out to Nevada, make a new start, and everything will be fine, but it’s not. Michael goes over to the dark side, if you will. He just gets so far from everything Vito was, not that he was a saint but I guess he kind of was in the mafia world (if that even makes any sense). Though he didn’t go about it in a socially or morally acceptable way and did demand lifelong loyalty, you get the feeling that he’s there to help people. Everybody really does love him and they are part of one big family. In Part II, everybody is so isolated. The final shot of Michael alone is tragic and heartbreaking. Also, in a less story concerned way this movie doesn’t work as well for me because it doesn’t have Marlon Brando, James Caan, Abe Vigoda… it seems like most of the cool people are dead at this point. De Niro of course is a plus though, and I still do love the flashbacks. I almost wish they were a separate film, but they do create a great contrast between the golden age of the Corleone empire and the decline. This contrast of course makes Michael’s story all the more tragic, and me all the more devastated.
Despite my personal problems with the film, The Godfather Part II is a great film that is a must see just as much as The Godfather is. I’m not sure if I’d go so far to say I wouldn’t have chosen it as best picture, but I might because I really love Chinatown which was also nominated from ’74. That’s more just personal preference though; I’ve seen Chinatown twice as many times and even though it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either, it’s easier for me to watch. Clearly, the Academy didn’t feel that way and I’m sure most people agree. Part II won twice as many Oscars as the original, but was nominated for the same amount. It was nominated for eleven academy awards: best picture, best director, Pacino for best actor, best supporting actors for Gazza, De Niro, and Strasberg, best supporting actress for Shire (which makes me mad because Keaton deserved it more in my opinion), best original score, best adapted screenplay, art direction, and costumes. It took away six: best picture, best director, supporting actor for De Niro, original score, adapted screenplay, and art direction. I still can’t believe that Pacino didn’t win this one. He deserves it even more than he did for the first one, because he is even more the main character here and still does just as a great of a job with it. If Nicholson had won I might be a little more forgiving, but is was Art Carney for Harry and Tonto and this is probably more of a sign of my ignorance than the Academy’s idiocy (at least I hope it is) but I don’t even know who or what that is. Ah well, Part II still has a well-deserved place in cinematic history and so does Pacino, which is ultimately more important anyway.
“Michael, your father loves you very much. Very much.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
Part II is as great as the original in my opinion and I’m shocked John Cazale didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. I recommend seeing Coppola’s The Conversation, which I think is a highly underrated movie.
Yeah. Even though it won six of them I feel like it should have gotten more. Ah well.
Part II is just so depressing that I don’t like to watch it. I feel very drained emotionally after I do. In terms of quality it is just as good as the original though.
The Conversation is also on my list! I will get to it, but I don’t know when….
I like the first better, too, Hunter. But they’re both great. You’re right, its tough to understand how Pacino didnt win an Oscar here. 😦
They got two chances to give him an Oscar for playing Michael Corleone and they messed it up both times, for god’s sake. Tisk tisk, Academy.
I agree that they are both equally good films, just Part II is so much harder for me to watch so I don’t that often.
ive only seen the 1st part, but i fully intend to watch the other 2…al pacino you are great.
Yeah I really don’t know what the Academy was thinking on that one. Shame on them.
You should definitely watch the other two. Part II is really good, and then you have to watch part III for the sake of completeness even though it’s a giant let down. Then you can say you watched it and forget about it (hopefully).
Excellent review, that last shot of Michael is amazing.
It is. Very tragic, and by the time it comes around I’m always depressed.
I much prefer The Godfather to The Godfather II, not in terms of cinematic quality, but in terms of story line and general ambiance. I am lo one of the minority of people who really loved The Godfather III (although, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I or II). Nice review!
Thanks, and thanks for dropping by as well!
General ambiance is a great way to put it. There’s just this feel about the first one that makes it better (or more enjoyable).
Hey, if you like Part III more power to ya. I’m like that with Indiana Jones, I feel like I’m the only person who likes the fourth one 🙂
Yeah. I really love the beginning with Italian-American wedding setting. And then later, there’s the section in Sicily which is really beautiful. Haha! I can understand what people mean about the Part III, I’m just not as bothered by it. I think the end makes up for any issues with the rest of the film. 🙂
Great analysis, it helped to focus my own thinking about the movie. I would add that Mike’s darker, duplicious and totally ruthless nature has been given a chance to develop fully in part I and part 2 just confirms what was already stated. Leaves one to wonder what would his father say were he alive? Perhaps he knew Mike’s nature, because he was so reluctant to have Mike involved in the darker aspect of the family’s business. He was saddened to tears when he first heard the news of the double murder at the restaurant. Perhaps he guessed what Mike’s fate was to be.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it, and I can definitely imagine Vito already knowing Michael’s fate but being powerless to stop it. I would argue in return that while Michael’s dark side is fully apparent in the closing shot of Part I, he goes even further into it in Part II that is perhaps not imaginable back in Part I.
I’ve grown more fond of Part II over the years, but it’s still the less enjoyable film for me because of the unbearable sadness left in the wake of all the family deaths in Part I, mostly Vito. Michael is just so alone and everything seems so wrong. Still an equally great movie, just harder to watch if you ask me.
Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been away from the blog but I’m back now!