The second installment of the epic saga of the Corleone family weaves the story of the early life of Vito Corleone in the 1920s in New York City alongside son Michael’s rise to prominence as a mafia kingpin in the 1950s.
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Part II is the deepest and most poetic of the three [Godfather] films. It’s an operatic masterpiece with Shakespearean overtones whose cast (lead by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino), music (by Nino Rota) and gloomy lighting (by cinematographer Gordon Willis), have all become legendary.
If “The Godfather” is an exceptional piece of linear narrative, “The Godfather Part II” is more dazzling to me because of how it loops through time. You’re totally right about the second film being “superfluous” in terms of giving us new or surprising information. But it’s better (for me, anyway) because it spends more time confusing and surprising us about the information being received. I like to be confused.
Broadly speaking, the first Godfather is a generic gangster film with arthouse trimmings and the second is an arthouse film with generic gangster trimmings, but both blockbusters encompass masterful American adaptations and appropriations of recent Italian cinema.
Part I has the lion's share of famous scenes, but its intricacies and nuances are all in the craft; below the surface, its ideas and arcs are fairly simplistic. Part II deepens what Part I found flashy. It's both more personally intimate and broader in geopolitical scope, examining the self-perpetuated insularity/volatility of such groups—and giving Pacino's heavy eyes room to develop real soul. The richer film.
The carefully handled pre-story neatly offsets and reposes the repeat formula of the main narrative which amounts to more of the same, albeit superbly served-up. However the misty-eyed view of criminality cannot be totally ignored. Is it a paean to wickedness? No, but you do wonder after over three
hours of this magnificently elaborated fresco what you are indulging in. Nevertheless a brilliantly realised tradegy.
Many people saw this as a showdown between Pacino and DeNiro. DeNiro went for a very understated take on the character, whereas Pacino was already ready to take a bite out of the scenery. I didn't necessarily see DeNiro as a young Godfather. Forget about those punks. The main reason to watch this movie is John Cazale.
Superior to the original film because of the masterful mood and tone in the sequences of Vito Corleone's childhood, adolescence, and young adult years (superbly portrayed with complexity by De Niro). The rest of the film pales in comparison. Coppola achieved his greatest filmmaking (apart from Apocalypse Now) in the story of Vito's life. However, its lasting weakness is that it was not released as a separate film.
I enjoyed Part I the better, as I struggled a bit to keep track of all the secondary characters in this one... most of the time Vito's origin story felt more engaging than Michael's conspiracy surrounding the family's business in Las Vegas. His fight with Kay was pretty memorable, though. The film was exquisitely produced and looks ravishing, just like the original does.
Not sure I understand the people who say these movies glamorize the mafia in the wake of films like "Gomorrah." We've still got butchered prostitutes used as tools in a frame, fratricide, domestic abuse, suicide, garroting, need I go on? In any case, a darker, quieter sequel that benefits from Coppola's creative control. The tiniest character moments are so haunting. I could spend years studying only this film.
More ambitious than the first, at times it doesn't seem perfectly coherent. At the moment I give it four stars, because it is beautiful and complex and wonderfully filmed, but I'll have to watch it again to decide if it's worth five stars.
This film reminded me at times the last novels written by James Ellroy with its way to incorporate historical events into a fiction in order to raise the reader's (viewer's) interest. Masterpiece, of course.