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The Godfather Part 2 (1974,USA)

20/07/2011

Director: Francis Ford Coppola        Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire

Sequels to hit movies are always a gamble. Like the dreaded “difficult second album” syndrome that plagues musicians, following up on a successful debut outing can be a daunting task for any filmmaker to undertake. More often that not the law of diminishing returns applies and while the follow up film may not be bad it is par for the course that it will be largely inferior to its predecessor in almost every way. On rare occasions though sequels manage to live up to (and in some cases, like The Empire Strikes Back for example, surpass) the standards of the original film. There are those who claim that the second installment of the Godfather series is better than the first. I have to say that I think they are wrong. It is certainly on a par with the first part though, a momumental achievement given the brilliance of the Corleone family’s debut.

Following on from the first film we rejoin Don Michael seven years after he has risen to the head of the Corleone family and consolidated their dominance among the various American Mafia families. Business is good, the Coreleone’s move into the casino business having been a shrewd one. This good fortune though has attracted powerful enemies though and before too long it becomes clear that there are traitors in the midst of his organisation who are prepared to help said enemies take Michael out of the game. Alongside this story we are given a history of his father Vito’s rise to power from poor Sicilian immigrant child into respected (and feared) Mafia Don.

Pleasingly, where a character remains from the original installment the original cast member who played them also remains. This brings a comforting consistency to the story and instantly puts you at ease thanks to the familiarity of the characters. The only exception to this is Marlon Brando who did not reprise his role as Vito Corleone in the second film. Supposedly this is because he felt cheated and abused by Paramount after the first film. Instead, Robert De Niro puts in an Oscar winning turn as the young Vito Corleone in the various flashback sequences that chart his rise to power in New York city. It’s fair to say that he earned that Oscar as he is responsible for some of the greatest moments in the film.

The focus of Part II though is very much on Michael Corleone. As the first film draws to a close he comes off as something of a heroic character, pursuing the honour code of the Mafia against those who betrayed his father and salvaging the Corleone family from the brink of defeat with boldly stated claims of turning the Corleone family legitimate. It becomes clear fairly early on that this endeavour has not come to fruition in the sequel. In fact there is a sense that the Corleones have never been less legitimate. The glamourous, honourable Mafia portrayed in the first film is abandoned here, balanced out by the more brutish and destructive side. Murder is the quick fix for anything and life is cheap in this new era of organised crime.

That’s not the only change in Michael. For all of his talk about putting the family first the lines are blurred between his biological family and his business one. His relationship with his brother and sister have deteriorated beyond hope of salvation, he doesn’t spend any time with his kids and his marriage to Kay has been poisoned by dishonesty. He seems far more interested in the hopes and ambitions of his crime family. Coupled with a growing arrogance, the new Godfather is not a particularly likeable man. Constantly striving to fill his fathers shoes seems to be beyond him and while he may match his old man for cunning and ruthlessness he is light years behind him when it comes to humanity and respect.

In every other aspect the film is on a level pegging with the first one and so it should be following on so closely and with the same cast and crew on the project. It’s just as beautifully shot. Nino Rota reprises the iconic score. Although it keeps strictly to the look and feel of the earlier film and maintains the story arc set out there it has enough individuality to set itself apart from its predecessor. Sadly it still suffers from the slightly inconsistent restoration work that the first film did (I may be judging it too harshly – I am using Coppola’s phenomenal restoration of Apocalypse Now on blu ray as a point of comparison) but it is still stunning to behold and the young Vito sequences in particular look amazing on the high definition disc. The other benefit of the blu ray is that the entire film is now housed on a single side of a single disc so no more flipping/disc changing at the intermission!

As far as films go this really should be on everybody’s “must see” list if, somehow, for whatever reason you haven’t seen it already. Just make sure you’ve watched Part I first.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/08/2011 02:56

    Nice write-up. I like that you gave a special emphasis to the degradation of the Michael Corleone character.

    • 03/08/2011 07:45

      Glad you enjoyed it! For me, Part 2 is all about Michael’s change in personality. It’s concrete proof, if any were needed that Al Pacino is probably the greatest actor of his generation.

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