#3: The Godfather Part II (1974)

When and how did I watch this?

July 3rd, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

My dirty confession: I watched these out of order.  Actually, I watched them in order, but I viewed The Godfather first, since they were already ranked back to back.  I had the backdrop of Vito Corleone’s rule and demise and the ascension of his son Michael, along with key characters.  Otherwise, unlike the notoriety of its prequel, I knew nothing else.

What do I know about it now?

The film follows two story lines: the ugly childhood of young Vito (DeNiro) and his rise to his position as a New York crime boss, and the fateful tale of his now-ruling son Michael (Pacino). The story is complicated, naturally, and is highly dependent upon your prior knowledge of both characters. The layout makes for an interesting screenplay, at times entertaining and inspiring, but at other points it swings into sudden madness and some intense violence. We empathize with Vito tremendously, watching him stumble through the death of his parents, his emigration and rocky start in America, and his criminial — albeit somewhat cathartic — sense of justice as he grows up and has children of his own. Vito is revered as fair and exacting, leading into the chronological Godfather screenplay. On the other hand, we grow to hate Michael, who seems to be systematically destroying what Vito established, running over his own family in the process. What I found odd is how little Vito’s wife is addressed and how accepting she is, by default; Vito’s story parallels Michael’s in a way, but it would seem Kay is far less tolerant of Michael’s lifestyle. Despite this, the movie really did a quality job carving out the respective characters’ evolution, especially Michael’s. If all of this is a bit muddling, that’s the unfortunate nature of both films: they’re very long, complicated, and at times somewhat convoluted. More on this in my The Godfather entry.

What are some themes in the film?

Pride, justice, revenge, betrayal, family (marriage and blood), violence, early 20th century America, the mob, crime juxtaposed with morality

Did this affect me personally?

I felt that Fredo’s fate was the most profound moment of the film.  There are other “moments” throughout, but this stood out to me. I was also disgusted with how Michael treats Kay, and it made me grateful we have a considerably less complicated occupation and marriage.

Why is this ranked #3?

The legacy of The Godfather and Al Pacino’s terrific performance.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She has a lesser perspective of it than I do.  Just like its prequel, The Godfather Part II is kind of a dude movie.

Would I watch it again?

Only for clarity.  Otherwise, no.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This is a complicated question. It seems you must see the first one, and you could probably do without the sequel.  On the other hand, Part II, from my perspective, appears to be the better film.  Do you have 6 1/2 hours to kill? Do you like the plodding pace of 70s cinema, crime dramas, pregnant line delivery punctuated with shocking acts of violence, and skewed morality? It might be one of the best films you’ve ever seen, but it also might turn into a huge waste of time.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

This film works for a myriad of reasons, and it is saved for those very reasons.  Al Pacino is spectacular as Michael Corleone, and serves as the complicated character that Tony Montana of Scarface fell short of becoming. DeNiro is nice, though I felt his depth was hindered by the secondary plot in the film. Another standout role is John Cazale as Fredo.  I’ve liked him in every role he’s played in this list of movies, and he portrays Fredo perfectly as weak but emotionally mature. Naturally, it felt like a spliced up double feature, which was at first muddling but settled into my mind over time as cleverly constructed. Finally, it’s the violence: occasionally gruesome, often shocking, but always treated respectfully as a theme in the film rather than just a way to break up scenes. It’s a great film, deserving of great respect, but it lacks the punch of several other films on the list.

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