This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The Godfather: Part II is my all time favourite film. The idea of reviewing it is daunting to me, how can I do this monumental piece of work justice with mere words? How can I review this movie without reviewing the first part?
I should probably start with a recap. The Godfather revolves around the Corleone family, a powerful Mafia family set-up in New York. The family is headed up by The Godfather 'Don' Vito Corleone who has three sons (Sonny, Fredo and Michael), one adopted son (Tom Hagen) and a daughter (Connie). The film takes place over a decade between 1945 and 1955. In this time we see the legitimate son Michael become involved in the family business after Vito is shot by cohorts of a rival family. After a brief period in exile in Sicily Michael returns, a changed man. His time in Sicily brings him closer to his family and the business they are involved in.
Sometime after returned Michael reconnects with his girlfriend prior to his exile in Sicily, Kaye Adams. He has taken control of the family business with his ailing father by his side. Once his father dies though, he takes action. Sending out a ruthless hit of all the heads of the five families, his rivals and the men behind the shooting of his father. Along with this he also see's his sister's husband killed for his involvement in the murder of his brother Sonny.
Michael is no longer the innocent war hero, the legitimate family member of a powerful crime organisation, he is the head of this organisation burning a trail of violence and murder in his wake to ensure his families position as the dominant organisation. This of course effects Michaels character, he has lost the meaning of the word family as he becomes drunk on the power his position provides. The movie ends with him shutting Kaye out as she is prying into 'his' business.
This roughly brings us up to speed. The Godfather Part II has a duel narrative, one charting Michaels continuing journey as the head of the Corleone family, taking place in 1958, the other dating back to 1901, following Vito Corleone's journey to America and the beginnings of his life in crime.
The movie begins with Vito's story in the town of Corleone. Vito is born Andolini and is forced to flee to America after his family is killed by Don Ciccio, after his father was seen to have insulted the Don. I like how his name is registered as Corleone, the families history and roots becoming deeply entrenched in their identity.
Jumping forward to 1958 we see the Corleone family has relocated to the more glamorous spot of Nevada. A big outdoor party for Michaels son, Anthony. The scene mirrors that of the wedding in Part I and shows the duel meaning of the word family. As the day draws to a close there is an attempt on Michaels life.
As the film goes on the duelling narrative structure acts as a juxtaposition for the positions that Vito and Michael find themselves in. Vito makes a name for himself and prides himself on his close bond to his family both personal and in a business sense. He is respectful as he is ruthlessly violent and he commands respect in return. He is a man of values and tradition. Michael on the other hand has lost sight of all of these values that his father held dear as he struggles to deal with the business and the family around him. Michael is a shadow of the man he once was and is more tyrannical and cold of emotion.
His dealing with Hyman Roth leads Michael to the chilling revelation that his own brother Fredo was responsible for the attempt on his life. The scene in which Michael tells Fredo he knows it was him is just one of the countless unforgettable scenes. Even more chilling is how Michael waits for their Mother to pass away before he has his body guard Al Neary kill him. Michael has truly lost his soul, his humanity and the very value of family that his father valued above all and built his organisation on. Michael has destroyed his family.
Further to this, his actions end his relationship with Kaye. Michael had wanted another son and in what is for me one of the greatest moments in cinema history Kaye reveals her abortion to him, the slow horror and quiet seething give way to an explosion of anger and violence. It's my single greatest moment of screen acting from Al Pacino and absolutely devastates me every time.
Of course the film is also notable for being a breakthrough for Robert De Niro, for his astonishing take on Vito, his Sicilian dialogue delivered so wonderfully, I wished he'd spent more time doing foreign language movies. Some argue that his performance is the best in the film but I stand firm that this is Pacino's film. It is the performance I rate more than any other in the history of cinema. It shows a man losing his grip on reality, becoming more volatile, cold, calculating and paranoid until he loses all of what he once was, he becomes a monster. The way in which Vito's rise is shown parallel to this only serves to make his downfall all the more powerful.
What makes The Godfather: Part II stand taller than the first film is the depth in which the duel narrative creates in the story. The film has a great sense of time and location, perfectly capturing Sicily and New York in the early 1900's. The rich sense of place the film has invites us into the world, immerses us in the tragedy and gives us a sense of what it was like to live in these locations during that time. This is in large parts thanks to the dark and earthy cinematography of Gordon Willis and production design by Dean Tavoularis. These points are all valid of the first part too of course but here they go deeper and reveal an even darker underbelly to the world of crime, one that strips away the very values of family upheld in that still classic original.
Francis Ford Coppola had not even intended on directing a second part of The Godfather, I cannot imagine what my life would be like if he hadn't. The movie is so beautifully tragic and has influenced my interest in films ever since. I doubt a film will ever come along to knock it off it's perch.
I have been too intimidated to write about this film before now, I am a novice when it comes to writing film reviews, I'm not even sure it is possible to convey in simple words what this film means to me and why I think it is so good, all I know is it as enriched my life and influenced me in so many ways I can only be thankful it exists.