“The Godfather Part II” Movie Review

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the first great franchise of Hollywood. Well, at least it was for a little while, but that’s besides the point. This epic crime drama was released during Christmas time of 1974, a full two years after the original. Although it ultimately made less than its predecessor, with a box office intake of around $55 million against a budget of $13 million, it received virtually the same praise as last time. In fact, many critics consider it to be superior to the original, although others took a little while to come to their senses. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 6 and became the first sequel to win Best Picture, a feat only matched in 2003 by Return of the King. Once again written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the story stemmed from his interest in the dichotomy in the two central arcs. A number of actors from the first film, such as Marlon Brando and Richard Castellano, chose not to return despite their parts being written. It took over half a year for filming to complete, and only 6 months after that to prepare in time for a holiday release for Paramount. This time around, it’s both a prequel AND a sequel. The first story takes place in 1958, and follows Michael Corleone who has assumed the role of family Don. As he attempts to expand his family business into major venues, an attempt on his life leaves him weary of even his closest associates. In the other one, we see his father Vito in his young years emigrate to the U.S. during the early 20th century. And we watch as his empire gradually grows in New York City as Michael’s begins to fall apart. As anyone who’s read my blog before should know, I absolutely adore the first Godfather movie. In spite of all the difficulties Coppola had making that film, I genuinely don’t have any problems with it in terms of either narrative, technicality, or acting. For the longest time, I had been somewhat scared to watch the sequel, as I felt there wasn’t any possible way it could live up to the original. In fact, I only finally watched The Godfather Part II for the first time very early this year. And while I’m not quite sure if it surpasses the original, it is absolutely a worthy follow-up deserving of the exact same gushing. It’s very curious to watch the dual yet somewhat opposite storylines play out. As young Vito’s list of allies and associates grows, Michael’s gradually wanes in the face of paranoia. How both of these men come about it is shown in a very slow, deliberate, but engaging manner. Despite the epic runtime of 3 hours and 22 minutes, including a brief intermission, not a single moment felt wasted developing their stories. In fact, I’d argue that a minute shorter would diminish its power and significance. The movie is less a continuous crime saga and more a melancholy parable on the consequences American Dream, as Vito emigrated to the United States and built everything he had from the ground up. It’s at turns inspiring, heartbreaking, and shocking. Returning to his most iconic role, Al Pacino is even better than last time as Michael. Through subtle gestures and some occasional outbursts, this man becomes increasingly less sympathetic as the film goes on, but you still can’t help but watch. This time around Fred Cazale and Diane Keaton are given more room and time to shine as his brother Fredo and wife Kay, respectively. Each one has a tragic element that they expertly add to their character, partly due to their mutual fear of who Michael has become. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro shines in his Oscar-winning breakout role as a young Vito Corleone. A role spoken almost entirely in the Italian language, he shows why he is a man not to mess with as he kills people from rival gangs to solidify his power as the mafia Don. But he still is able to show genuine care, looking after his wife and infant sons and giving back to less fortunate members of his community. Once again, The Godfather Part II is also a brilliant piece of technicality that was revolutionary for the time and still impressive today. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer and gives a more muted look to the film. It was the last Hollywood picture to be made using the dye imbibition process with Technicolor until the 1990’s, and makes the most out of its set pieces. From the Dominican Republic to Sicily to a Senate committee, the production designers Angelo Graham, John Dapper, and Dean Tavoularis crafted many memorable locations across the epic story. Each one is edited by Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, and Richard Marks with ease, moving between each timeline with cross dissolves or some hard cuts. And yet, it still works effortlessly. Nino Rota writes the original film score for the second go-around, this time with a little help from the director’s late father Carmine Coppola. While the primary theme is kept mostly intact, there is some new music worth listening to as well. There are a handful of more lighthearted tunes for Little Italy scenes, consisting of bouncy percussion and accordions. What’s particularly memorable is the song that plays when Vito first sees the Statue of Liberty, a haunting and beautiful piece that illustrates his newfound freedom. Starting with a solemn trumpet solo before blowing out with strings and woodwind trills, it works as well as any piece of film score I’ve ever listened to. It’s truly a soundtrack for New York City. Even after this rewatch, I do need a bit of time to decide if I like this film more than the original, like many cinephiles proclaim. It definitely feels more free of the usual constraints faced by sequels, as the story is never beholden to the events of the original film. In that, it’s just as strong a standalone feature as it is a continuation of the story Mario Puzo had originally envisioned. The Godfather Part II is a brilliant Shakespearean family tragedy clothed as an operatic gangster saga. Just as with last time, there is virtually nothing wrong with this movie in any department and only gets better with age. Epic but not overlong, dark but not cold. The real question: What the hell happened to Frances Ford Coppola? That man was on a roll. But hey, at least we have this duology, (Yes, you read that correctly) The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, and frankly that’s all I need from him.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s