Ali Abdul-Karim’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Godfather: Part II ♻️
Just a note... you can check out my all time favorites list here, it’s a constantly changing and expanding list where I’ve ranked every film I’ve given a 100% rating. This film along with the first Godfather both together occupy the 3rd place position, of course in the ranking they had to be separated but I consider them as one, partially so I can cram more films into my top 10 😂 and also because they are nearly equal in quality and in terms of my love for them.
As I mentioned in my last review of The Godfather a few weeks ago, these were the films that got me into the world of cinema, and by that I don’t mean films in general, that credit goes to The Lord of the Rings trilogy which occupies my number one spot of all time. But I mean into the world of art films, prestigious classics, they were stepping stones into the world of the Kubrick’s, Kurosawa’s and Tarkovsky’s if you get what I mean.
Since watching The Godfather trilogy I’d preferred The Godfather and said it was just a bit better. Now... after this rewatch I must say, that The Godfather: Part II is a little better, however I still prefer the first part, but that could change, I went from having Part II as a shared 3rd favorite to having it as my shared third favorite but at the same time I loved it 10x more. And there are many reasons why I currently say I prefer 1 but you can read my reviews of The Godfather to find out...
I last watched this film at the very beginning of the year, I had gotten a new 4K TV and some Blu Rays, I started out by rewatching the first two Godfather films. Anyways since then I’ve watched about 360 films so it’s fair to say despite the fact that even that viewing was a rewatch of the film, I had forgotten so much about the film, a lot of details in scenes I didn’t remember. I will not go into any spoilers in this film, I’ll make reference to certain things early on in the film, but nothing more. At some point I’ll rewatch this film again and do an in depth analysis video on it for my YouTube channel, and I’ll modify the script and put it here as a review, but for now I leave you with an in depth but non spoiler review of one of my all time favorite films and probably the second best film of all time, at least from what I’ve seen...
As I’m sure you’re aware by this point, The Godfather: Part II switches between two timelines. The earlier one chronologically being the story of Vito Corleone and it charts his life as a young boy through to his rise in New York. The youngest version of Vito and that’s him at age 9 and is played by Oreste Baldini. Youngest Vito is not in the film for very long, but neither was Mahershala Ali in Moonlight (2016) but he won an academy award for the performance, which was no doubt fantastic but I’m just attempting to illustrate my point, in that he should certainly be given more appreciation.
Of course Baldini isn’t the only one who gives a good performance... this film is home to some of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. First of all we have Al Pacino giving his finest performance as Micheal Corleone, it’s pure perfection. Often times in this film his thoughts and ideas are communicated non-verbally, primarily through his eyes. Obviously within the world of the mafia one cannot reveal all of their thoughts and decisions openly. “Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again.” - Vito Corleone (when speaking to his son Santino Corleone in The Godfather) and on top of that Ford Coppola being the excellent filmmaker he is wouldn’t want to reveal everything within a scene through dialogue or exposition... so he does so through the eyes. I was watching this film with my sister and every 5 minutes I would point at the screen and say “look at the eyes...!” in reference to Al Pacino’s character Michael. There’s a scene in a cafe with Michael and Fredo and his eyes just convey all of the emotions and thoughts, it’s truly fantastic. And of course there’s so much more to the performance, but it’s very difficult to really get into it, so I just touched on an aspect that really stood out to me.
Speaking of Fredo... the character was played remarkably by John Cazale in this film and of course in The Godfather. You can really empathize with the character and feel what he feels in this film and that’s truly a necessity otherwise a lot of this film wouldn’t work. Now I of course I have to mention Robert De Niro’s outstanding and Oscar winning performance as Vito Corleone in the early stages of his adulthood, I think that’s the best way to describe the period... maybe it’s easier to just say as a young man. I don’t really know what to say but it’s just a remarkable performance, the stark contrast between him and Pacino’s Michael Corleone is of course the main reason why Coppola decided to make this film a work in which we would be switching between past and present throughout. Now I don’t really want to spend too much time on each actor and their performance, all the usual suspects are here Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and they’re all great and I’d like to add Lee Strasbourg who was fantastic in this film. But one person whom I didn’t have enough appreciation for is Michael Gazzo who played Frank “Five Angels” Pentangeli. Both his real name and his nickname of sorts are really cool so... but the character is in quite a lot of this film and Gazzo acts superbly, there’s so much emotion packed into every line. One specific scene... it’s of course difficult to pick a favorite or a best for anything but this scene might be favorite in this particular film and that’s the “Roman Empire” scene. Now as I said I will not be getting into spoilers, that’s for another time, but that scene is AMAZING! and the devastation and that knowingness that Gazzo infuses into his performance as Frankie Five Angels in that scene is enough to give this film a 10/10 just on its own.
With pretty much all of my favorite films, half of their greatness stems from the scores that were composed or the soundtracks with pieces of music and songs that the filmmaker just knew were right. Whether that’s Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings or the wonderful pieces of music Stanley Kubrick chose for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon. In this case it’s Nino Rota’s score that he composed for this film.
Just briefly I’d like to make mention of another master composer, Ennio Morricone, quite possibly my favorite composer, whom recently sadly passed away. He will forever be remembered.
Rota’s score conveys amongst other things love, pain, tradition, power, family, greed... Such powerful music is used in this film and it’s effect on myself cannot be understated, music is a big thing for me and The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II were not only extremely important in my cinema exploration journey but also in terms of my love for music. Truly iconic music that’s engrained itself into my head and more importantly into my heart.
It’s use within in this film is also another aspect that must be mentioned. Composing great music is one thing but something that’s really difficult is having that magical feeling that these two things both the scene and the piece of music go together perfectly, as Lynch says the music must marry to the scene, that holds true for all the great works of cinema and of course holds true for this film.
Now I’d like to delve into some scenes from the start of the film, this is the first 15 minutes or so, I wouldn’t say they’re spoilers per se but I have no right to take away the experience of even a minute of this masterpiece so if you don’t want to read my comments on those first scenes then scroll down until a bold title of sorts appears within in the review, then on this discussion of these scenes will be complete... There were also be some spoilers for The Godfather (1) here, again scroll to the bold title if you do not want to read it...
So The Godfather has a lot of “lighter moments”. We open of course with the scene with Don Corleone and his now iconic cat and he’s being asked to “do murder, for money” but after that we go outside to the extravagant, happy and exciting wedding. Fast paced Italian music is playing, people dance and drink red wine etc... There are also dozens of hilarious scenes in The Godfather...
Clemenza teaching Michael to cook, Leave the gun, take the cannoli and numerous others... These lighter aspects fade away as we progress through the film and eventually we enter The Godfather: Part II where instead of a wedding we have a funeral. That says it all...
Then we move into the scene in Tahoe (I believe...) in Las Vegas where a senator is congratulating the Corleone’s... The red wine GONE, replaced with champagne. The old traditional Italian music GONE. Everyone’s names have been Americanized by the Senator and the identity of the family has disappeared. Gone are the old days of Don Vito Corleone and Italian weddings. Pentangeli even makes an attempt to try and bring back some of that “Italian-ness” by going up to the band and complaining that there are no Italians there and then asking them to play a Tarantella, a traditional piece of Italian music, they try and quickly switch to the American “Pop goes the weasel” Pentangeli’s final plee is cast away and then the events of the film begin it unfold.
I certainly haven’t delved anywhere near deep enough and I’d like to do a more analysis oriented review in the future, but I hope whatever I’ve written has been of help in forming an interpretation of this film.
Coming back quickly to the Roman Empire scene... the Tarantella scene and this scene both with Pentangeli really encompass the themes and ideas of this film. I’d urge you to pay attention to the framing of that shot, what’s clearly obstructing our view, and of course the dialogue ands when the music kicks in. It’s a remarkable scene, and it’s really heart breaking.
I guess I shall say no more... I was going to list some of my favorite scenes but that could ruin the film for someone so maybe another time... but feel free to discuss further in the comments, so if you haven’t seen this film it’s best not to delve below incase there are spoiler filled comments.
Thank you for reading, it has been a pleasure being able to briefly “discuss” my third favorite (shared also with the first Godfather film) film of all time.
🔙 Where is My Friend’s House?
🔜 The Skeleton Dance