When I watch a movie that has received critical acclaim from all corners of the world, I can’t help but hope that the movie itself doesn’t disappoint my own expectations. When it does, I try to give it a second chance. I have done that for Unforgiven, In the Mood for Love, Blade Runner etc & sometimes, the chance pays off.
But when it came to re-watching The Godfather: Part II, I still felt disappointed yet surprised when I realised that many felt it was comparable to the first, if not better. It seemed like I was one of the only people who was underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an interesting work by Coppola but my fascination with the family was diminished here, mainly because fascinating characters such as Vito, Sonny, Clemenza, Tessio & many others disappeared either because they were killed off in the first part or didn’t appear for the second part.
(Before I continue, I should explain by what I mean by the word ‘angle’ if it causes confusion. To me, the angle of a movie is how the director frames the story; the point of view or way in which he tells it).
That doesn’t mean that Al Pacino’s performance was bad in Part I or II. My problem was the angle that Michael Corleone was presented at. In Part I, the angle of Michael’s character was his transformation from good to bad. His descent into moral corruption & his ties from the underworld were Coppola’s focus. In Part II, Coppola concentrates on Michael’s paranoia, his distrust of his employees, his hypocritical attempts to resurrect the family into legitimacy & much more. I really can’t explain why I didn’t like Part II as much but maybe it was its angle that let me down. I didn’t take a fascination to Michael’s descent into paranoia. I wasn’t fascinated by the character of Frank Pentangelli & his attempt to convince Michael to lose his trust in Hyman Roth. I didn’t find an interest in Hyman Roth, or Al Neri (Michael’s bodyguard) or any character in Michael’s story (including characters from the family, because much of their roles have been repeated here, without any new insights). I would’ve just liked a prequel concentrating on Robert de Niro’s young version of Vito instead because his descent into corruption & into the underworld fascinated me, not Michael’s paranoia.
The Godfather is universally liked & applauded because it created a sympathetic framework for gangsters. It humanised them but not their actions. The Godfather isn’t an emotional experience (that’s my view) but an experience that allows us to observe their actions; not to condone them. On that premise, The Godfather attended to us by fascinating ourselves with its characters; their dilemmas, their flaws. It worked in The Godfather but did it work in Part II? In my opinion: NO because the characters themselves weren’t fascinating at the angle they were portrayed at.
This isn’t to say that Part II is a bad movie. The substance of Part II is like a morality play that investigates Michael’s shredding of his humanity; on that level, it works. The subplot on Vito was interesting (I would’ve liked to see more on his motivation that led him to enter the underworld, in Part II, he simply follows the flow but that may be Coppola’s point), the music by Nino Rota is memorable, the choice of colours was imaginative (it was the last mainstream Technicolor movie so the quality of the colours is so rich, so saturated yet so hyper-realistic, if that’s the right term), the choice of camera angles was a superb reflection of the period’s decor & who would be able to forget it’s memorable performances? What I loved best was the ending; the irony, the pathos & the poetic touch behind the bristling of the leaves were perfectly matched to Pacino’s contemplative face. My only problem with the ending was that it has great potential yet the rest of the movie weakens its emotional pull. Other problems involved the editing of the plot between Michael & Vito. Mending plots in unison is definitely tricky. I believe it was perfected in Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s Babel but not here, simply because the impact of the plots was uneven.
Those are my thoughts & I’m sure that someone will agree or disagree to some of them. What are your thoughts?
I was fine with Godfather II, thinking it a richer work than its predecessor, until I read Danny Peary: he said that the scene where Kay and Michael are going at it hammer and tongs, with Kay finally telling Michael she had an abortion rather than pollute the world with another Corleone son, is played – and comes across to the viewer – like an acting class (literally); it’s like the two best actors in Acting 101 are asked to really give it their all in this exercise. As usual, Peary is right. I can never look at that scene again without thinking it somehow amateurish and “forced”.
Part II is nothing to turn your nose at. But, it seems like a movie that’s just tacked on to it’s predecessor. What I mean in saying this is that Part I really says everything that parts 2 and 3 will say, but with more economy, drama, and verve. Everything is there in the first film, and the others seem unnecessary.
Having said that, I could watch a whole three hour film that focused just on De Niro as young Vito
@Nathan M. – i wanna watch that movie too!!
Well, it’s no DARK KNIGHT, or anything, but I think GODFATHER II is pretty damn brilliant.
Thanks for that but if you don’t mind my asking Roscoe, why?
Part II is more ambitious in bringing together the two stories and time periods. It succedes, but it doesn’t have the original’s “perfect” structure of the tragic fall. The Fredo story is affecting, but for Michael, its a fall that has been set into motion in the first film. Having said that, I think Part II is fantastically executed, but it could never reach the heights of the original because that’s where the heart of the story has already been told.
I think Brad’s statements are the most accurate. The second film while great in it’s own right isn’t as well structured as the first.
In some ways, there’s more to admire and appreciate in PART II: it’s a more serious, somber movie and more deeply explores the ideas about capitalism, America, politics, and gangsterism brought up in the first one. But I do think it loses some of the original’s vitality (partly because, as the OP notes, there aren’t as many lively characters around). I’m impressed by PART II, but I don’t really love it.
PART 1 is overrated. I belong to the club that prefers Part I over Part II. I also prefer Deniro’s less iconic performance to Brando’s.
I think the film is brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, brilliantly made, just nearly all around perfect, with the sole problem being Mr. Strasberg’s unfortunate performance as Hyman Roth. I like the film’s contrast between Vito’s descent into crime and Michael’s descent into crime, which somehow seems far worse than his father’s.
Part II was oriented towards winning Oscars. It feels like a series of spotlight scenes, in which the actors take turns having big speeches and dramatic moments. In addition, it really adds nothing new to what was in Part I. It’s enjoyable as a more-of-the-same piece, and it’s very well made, but it’s so artificial imo that I find it far less exceptional than Part I. Nevertheless, I rate it an 8/10.
I’d disagree that it adds nothing new. The film’s relentless dissection of Michael’s chilly devolution (culminating in his assassination of his brother) is a distinct change from the merry brutality of the first film. As the Corleone family gets bigger, it gets less and less human. Michael Corleone is doubtless running Goldman Sachs.
I can see Michael running things at 85 Broad Street, where, were he asked, he reply quite coldly that he’s doing God’s work.
I don’t think it’s overrated at all. It’s longer (which gives it enough room to tell the story it needs to tell) and I found it to be more gripping than Part I to be honest. It’s deep, fantastic acting, writing, everything all around just seems perfect to me. I wouldn’t change one single thing.
It did strike me the last time I saw GODFATHER I that Michael’s break with the Corleone Family Business isn’t shown as clearly in the film as it is in the novel.
What I love about Godfather II is that you see Michael come full cirlcle. The film is about him.
I recently viewed Il Divo, Gomorrah, Rocco and His Brothers, Miller’s Crossing and Reservoir Dogs. To varying degrees, all of those films are forced (some particularly so) and none of them allow the viewer to be fully immersed into the story and characters without at least a sheen of cinematic excessiveness. I personally don’t believe The Godfather: Part II falls into these traps. GF II flows quite nicely, while treading lightly on the contrivance factor. I don’t think it is overrated, but I think The Godfather is better and more of a pure form; all of a piece, if you will.
“until I read Danny Peary: he said that the scene where Kay and Michael are going at it hammer and tongs, with Kay finally telling Michael she had an abortion rather than pollute the world with another Corleone son, is played – and comes across to the viewer – like an acting class (literally); it’s like the two best actors in Acting 101 are asked to really give it their all in this exercise. As usual, Peary is right. I can never look at that scene again without thinking it somehow amateurish and “forced”.”
I have that book too, got it when it 1st was published & you’re right, Peary’s opinion holds up. He also called Pt II “trite” & I think he’s right about that as well: Party, family business, massacre. There is quite a lot added in, expanding the Corleone family’s power in American biz, Hyman Roth is a great character, as is Frankie Pentangelli, to make the story a bit more unique but …
I think that the biggest reason it’s so highly praised is because of the telling of Vito’s backstory, which was excellently done. But when you discount those scenes, it’s really just a fancier retread of the 1st film, which was superior.
BTW, has anyone ever read the novel? GREAT GREAT GREAT story, made a great movie didn’t it? BUT it’s also one of the worst examples of English language writing ever published! Puzo’s prose is painful!!
I’m starting to think Godfather II is more memorable… I think the first one is better for many reasons, but who will forget pt. II?
I think the second one was an attempt to explain things. Everything with de Niro was trying to explain why/how Vito ended up where he was in the first movie. It also focuses much more on Michael’s “destruction”? I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. In the first movie Michael was a respectable man who ultimately succumbed to the underworld. In the second, Michael is a nasty man, who ultimately ends up being, still a nasty man. The focus is more on his effect on everyone around him.
Very interesting points of views here though
Roscoe: Part II in my opinion is definitely well made, but I can’t agree with your dissent on Mr Strasberg’s performance. He was one of the founding fathers of the ‘Method’ style of acting & he clearly shows this. Most of his screen time is devoted to his cold & artificial personality. His performance may feel lacking in life but most of his scenes are there for him simply to convince Michael of his innocence. Sometimes, his performance can seem forced. That to me is necessary to show the limits in his ability to pretend that everything was normal & that he wasn’t responsible for Michael’s assassination attempt.
Maybe the narrative is why Part II couldn’t reach the heights of Part I. The first movie, as Coppola said, was a finished product. The only way Part II could reach Part I’s heights was to tell the narrative in a new angle & approach new themes; new aspects about the Corleone family that we didn’t see in Part I. This is my problem: that it repeats many familiar themes from Part I instead of venturing into new aspects on the family. When Part II does investigate new aspects of the family (e.g. Michael’s paranoia), it’s well executed yet I would’ve liked more on the motivations behind their actions. In Part II, they just do it, it doesn’t look like motivations for their actions exist. More analysis on why would be beneficial in my opinion. To me, Part II needed to separate itself from Part I. But Part II merely follows.
I haven’t read the article/book from Danny Peary but I am in complete disagreement with his point. That scene is one of the movie’s greatest revelations because finally, Michael is realising the actions he’s committed, the reactions others take to his actions & their consequences. It felt intense, it was necessary to unravel Michael’s morality & it was the movie’s focal point or, the point in the story where our expectations of Mike & Kay change. That was interesting to me; his attempts to find the traitor aren’t.
I was wondering, if you loved Part II, what was your favourite aspect of Part II & why?
The photography and the music.
John, yeah, Strasberg was one of the founding fathers of the Actors Studio studio style of acting, and all that, but I’d say this is clearly a case of someone who could teach but not do. I find his performance as Hyman Roth to be stiff and frankly amateurish. Those who complain that the big Keaton/Pacino scene is like an acting class should watch his embarassing big speech about Moe Greene in Part II. Keanu Reeves would have done better. There are some signs of life, though, to be fair: I always smile when he complains that he doesn’t trust a doctor who can’t speak English.
As to your other problems with the film: fair enough. I disagree pretty completely. For me Part II does more than merely follow — it expands and deepens. The new information about how and why Vito Corleone became The Godfather, combined with the new information about Michael Corleone’s descent into an evil that Vito himself would never contemplate all make, for me, an irresistible motion picture experience.
I love pretty much all of Part II. A mis-step here and there, but on the whole a terrific movie. Beautifully made, beautifully acted (with one glaring exception), just a really admirable production,.
I pretty much agree with everything Roscoe said—with the notable exception of Strasberg’s performance. Perhaps, I should watch the film again, but every time I’ve seen the film I thought he was a pretty formidable character; I certainly never thought the performance was bad. (I can, however, understand criticism with the scene with Keaton and Pacino mentioned above.)
John says that the film doesn’t go into new territory, but like Roscoe said Part II “deepens and expands”—both the story of the Corelone family in general and Michael specifically. In Part I, we see how Michael gets involved in the family “business”, but in Part II we see him fully immersed in it—which deepens and expands the tragedy of the story. What’s tragic is that Michael actions are motivated by his love for his family, but this motivation leads to a descent into evil—including killing his own brother, which is the apex of the irony and tragedy. What makes the film poignant is that Michael’s actions are logical. I guess, you could call him paranoid, but I wouldn’t because there is true danger all around the family. As long as the family is “in the business” Michael’s behavior is appropriate. But it’s also evil, which is what makes it tragic.
Btw, Roscoe alludes to one of the weaknesses in the first film (and perhaps all three), and that is the way Michael distanced himself from the family. I would have liked to see the film more strongly establish that Michael is the good decent person—or at least is some really trying to be good. Yes, the first film touches on this, but not very deeply.
But back to the question: No, Godfather, Part II is not overrated. It is arguably the greatest sequel ever.
You’re right, Part II does go into new waters. I oversaw that & you’re right, it does deepen & expand on Part I. But my complaint is that regardless of it’s expansion, it still touches previous themes introduced & analysed to great detail in Part I. Part I was about the role & the responsibilities of the Don. It was about the functioning of the family. Part II repeats this simply by placing Mike into being the Don. What’s new in this respect is that we’re seeing him in power & we’re seeing his decisions & their effects. Maybe venturing into newer details in the family would be like telling a different story & not what made The Godfather such a recognisable work but what can I say? I just wanted more than expansion. I wanted it to venture into new ideas.
So I agree with how it deepens & expands. One thing I definitely can’t agree with is that you said Keanu Reeves could do better? Why is it that everyone universally hates his acting? I think he’s great! Look at him in Speed, The Matrix or even Bill & Ted. He’s able to nail his personalities extremely well, with freshness & with vigour. Maybe he’s a little stiff but I can’t deny that he doesn’t have an admirable screen presence.
Jazz, this could sound like blasphemy but I liked Star Trek II as a sequel better than Part II as a sequel. The only thing I can’t agree with is that you wouldn’t call him paranoid. Surely it may not seem like he’s paranoid since his belief that the Corleone family’s employees act & think like businessmen. However, suspecting even people like Tom Hagen is somewhat questionable, considering the bond, the amount of time he’s been in the family & the exceptional loyalty he’s shown to Mike in the past. Fredo may have betrayed the family & suspecting him may seem far more unlikely than if Tom were to rat out but his naivety, his inexperience & gullible atttude are factors that make him seem more likely to betray Mike, regardless if he was blood related to Mike. In that respect, it’s more acceptable if suspicions arose on Fredo instead of Tom (btw, I realise that you haven’t introduced this point). However, he has suspicions of Tom. Suspecting one whose connections to the family are so strong seems like paranoia. That’s my opinion but If others don’t see this as paranoia, then I wouldn’t know why.
wow. thats a lonely island youre on defending keanu reeves’ acting. especially using “bill and ted” as one of your examples.
I think Pt. III is underrated. Pacino’s performance is unforgettable in that one.
“Well, it’s no DARK KNIGHT, or anything” -youre saying The Dark Knight is better than Godfather pt. II? Different strokes for different folks I guess..
ugh AND you didn’t like Strasberg’s PERFORMANCE!!! clearly we have a difference of opinion here.
“He’s able to nail his personalities extremely well, with freshness & with vigour.”
That was referring to Keanu Reeves. Just thought I’d let everyone read that again.