Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
"My father always taught me; Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
In continuation of my Godfather Easter Marathon, I watched Part II today after some early morning traveling and family visits. My family gatherings were a little less violent as a Corleone affair, but I had a good time. And I hope you all had a great holiday as well.
Now, I hadn't seen Part II in long time. It's runtime always prevented it from being a movie you can just casually sit down and watch whenever you want. This is both a curse and a blessing. It's a blessing because this allows the sequel to be bigger, bloodier, and more dense. And after long hard thought, my previous opinion that the two films were equals is now changed. In addition to being bigger, bloodier, and heftier, it's also BETTER.
This is a monumental achievement in itself, and Part II already had some large shoes to fill and astronomical expectations to meet. Amazingly this sequel/prequel hybrid manages to exceed those astronomical expectations. It may not be as culturally important as the first but it stands as a better film technically. Part II would be absolutely nothing if it weren't for the first installment, so this opinion of mine comes with a bit of reluctance. Godfather Part II manages to overcome nuances of being a sequel in an extravagant way. It expands every aspect while still managing to retain EVERYTHING that made the original great. This is essential for sequels. You must not ignore what made people fall in love with it in the first place while you are trying to go all out. (I'm looking at you Chris Nolan. Hack)
The film opens to the classic haunting string theme and a close up of Michael Corleone's face. And that's it. There is no lengthy reintroducing of characters or recap of events. The ghostly theme and Michaels stress worn face is all that's needed to bring us back in to the world of the Corleone's. Just when I thought I was out, it pulled me back in... In this installment, Coppola tells two stories simultaneously. One of present day Michael facing challenges to his power, and the other is of Don Vito Corleone's rise to power in a turn of the century New York. These two are opposites but run as thematic parallels. Every little piece of Vito's past had its repercussions through the genes of Michael. He makes the same decisions, and makes the same mistakes. Seeing two generations of Corleone's really adds a new layer of depth to this fictional family and at the same time provides rich attention to detail in the immaculate period set pieces and costume design. It's the closest thing to being put in a time machine this side of Once Upon a Time in America. The worlds of old New York, Sicily, and Communist Cuba are photographed, designed, and shot in the highest form of art. It's a beautiful, brutal masterpiece.
Just as the film picks up right where the original left off, Part II picks up thematically where the last one ended as well. The common themes of violence, family values, and crime are ever present and fully realized. One new theme added is the idea of past and paying for your sins. This is evident in the Vito storyline and carries over into Michaels. This is a film full of people getting what they deserve and inheriting something they didn't want. Live by the sword, die by the sword I suppose. I also liked how Michael noticeably absorbed all of the roles and personalities of the people who died in the first one. The intelligence of his father, the short temper of Sonny, and the physical intimidation of Luca Brasi. Michael is a radically different man in this film and seeing him unravel on screen is cinema gold. His loyalty is compromised by his other and less developed brother from the first film, Fredo. John Cazale is absolutely brilliant and his interactions with Michael reveal another side to the Corleone's that the first film didn't get to show. It's a very emotional experience that has some high points that remind me why I love movies so much. Seeing Robert DeNiro hold young Michael I'm his arms saying "your father loves you very much" is a tender moment given the amount of history we already know about these characters. We know where they go, and what their fates are. Seeing them in their tender beginnings is immensely satisfying.
Francis Ford Coppola made lightning strike in the same place twice with this film. This second lightning flash may not be as sudden and unexpected as the first, but its brighter and more extravagant.
All of this however makes the existence of the third even more frustrating. You can be sure I'll watch it before the clock strikes midnight tonight to finish my Easter marathon. I might not post a review until early in the morning, but I'm going to watch it regardless. I might watch another movie before then or get out and get some fresh air.
I need to emotionally prepare myself....