The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part II ★★★★★

”Anthony, I have to do business.”
“I could help you.”
“Someday, you will.”

After having a lot of fun watching and posting a silly review of one of the greatest narrative films of all time last night in The Godfather -- I will still contend that the greatest film bar-none is Shoah, sorry to all you weirdos who don't/can't watch documentaries -- I'll be a little more serious in my review of the equally acclaimed Part II, the rare sequel that is about on par with the original, with some hot-take reviewers saying it surpasses the first.

Well, those people are wrong and their opinions are too. That's okay. This is still phenomenal and a stunning achievement by Coppola and Puzo once again.

First, I'll admit that I completely forgot the first scenes of this film: after we learn Vito’s father was killed for an unexplained “insult” to a don in Sicily, his brother is killed for announcing revenge and his mother is killed right in front of him for confronting the Don himself (after calling her only living child weak and small). Vito escapes with his life to America. My god, one can see how so much of his character is explained now.

Whereas the first Godfather film is brilliant, it is largely a straightforward linear narrative -- albeit one filled with intricate twists, nuanced emotion, and stunning performances. Part II, instead, weaves together two stories that begin a half-century apart: the aforementioned young Vito Corleone (née Andolini) -- Robert De Niro playing him when he becomes a young adult -- after his journey to America and coming of age in New York to a life of crime, and his youngest son Michael -- again the young and astoundingly great Al Pacino -- as the head of the Corleone crime syndicate in 1958 Nevada.

Therefore, the movie pulled off two incredible feats: serving as both a prequel and a sequel, and winning the Academy Award for Best Picture just as the original did a few years prior. Amazing.

(Also, I know I keep making these asides, but I want to add that I believe this was the first major feature film to ever have “Part II” literally in its title. I've heard that before at least. Can anyone confirm or deny if that's true?)

Before we get too much further, again, holy shit Al Pacino. Perhaps the greatest living American actor, he was snubbed out of an Oscar by the affable Art Carney from Harry and Tonto. Looking back, it's almost certainly the best performance of his life, and one of the greatest of all time. (Although, man, Dog Day Afternoon for me comes real goddamn close.) He is a powerhouse in this film, a towering presence on screen. Remember, he was only 33 when this was filmed.

Part II is an even more serious film than the first -- no lines about cannolis at least -- and also a little bit more complicated. Whereas two years prior you needed a little knowledge of vice, murder, and Italian culture to enjoy the film, this time around there are deep dives into politics and history, which (big shock here!) I fucking love. It's so awesomely ambitious to intertwine organized crime syndicates, the Cuban Revolution, and the Vegas casino industry. Somehow, with over a dozen important characters, it all works perfectly.

It's long, longer than the original by almost a half hour, long enough for an “intermission” card placed around the two-hour mark. Some of the initial criticism of the film was due to this, but there is so much to cover that nothing feels extended beyond appropriate length.

It's interesting that De Niro plays a small role in the film for those first two hours (also, speaking Italian almost the entire duration); sure the flashbacks happen a few times, but it's not until really “becomes” Vito that he jumps off the screen to rival Pacino’s performance in his supporting role. His transformation into mafia boss is gradual, but brutal and exacting.

And once again, Kay -- Diane Keaton, shining in the role this time -- is practically a bit part until the third act of the film. But when we get there, when Kay finally has a narrative she can dig her heels into for the last 45 minutes of the movie, she's incredible, particularly in a shocking revelation that is a dagger into Michael's heart, infuriating him to a fit of rage.

It's between that scene and the final pensive one (no spoilers in this review) that are the greatest of the film.

The Godfather Part II isn't flashy, it isn't sensationalist, and it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. But it is a tremendous feat of filmmaking to both continue and circumnavigate an epic storyline with such patience and nuance. I'll say it another time as I did last night for the original: you've got to watch this movie if you never have. You can't call yourself a film lover if you haven't.

Added to Francis Ford Coppola ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Films from Every Year I've Seen Them.

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