The Godfather Part II

In 1900’s Corleone, Sicily, a young Vito Andolini is left the only surviving member of his family after his father, brother and mother are all killed by the local mafia head, Don Ciccio. Vito flees to New York and adopts the new surname Corleone, and eventually finds that perhaps the best way of life for him is similar to the one that led to his family’s demise. Inter-cut with this story and following on from the events of The Godfather, a now in-charge Michael (Al Pacino), Vito’s youngest son, struggles to maintain his power with threats on many sides, including possibly one from within the family.
VitoPractically every movie franchise will invoke a debate discussing the order of preference of the films involved, and everyone seems to have a different opinion. One of the most common debates that doesn’t involve a James Cameron movie is often which is better, The Godfather or The Godfather Part II. What little I can recall of my first viewing of these films, I hazily recollect preferring the sequel/prequel over the original picture, but with this re-watch my opinion has changed dramatically. For me, there’s absolutely no contest, Part I is miles better than Part II, even though Part II features the great Bruno Kirby.
The Godfather Part II is split into two parts, spliced in between one another, one looking at Vito’s rise to power and the other following Micheal struggling to maintain it. Of the two, I love pretty much everything about the former, but the latter often left me cold. I found Michael’s storyline to be slowly paced and confusingly plotted, jumping locations and mixing in characters whose motivations I sometimes found difficult to ascertain. It’s not all like this – the stuff with Michael’s simple older brother Fredo (John Cazale) is fantastic, mainly due to Cazale’s criminally under-rated performance – had this film entirely focussed on this story, Cazale would have received a Supporting Actor nomination for sure – but for large periods I was lost.
Comparatively Vito’s rise is simple to understand, and benefits from a new time period being depicted, and is done so beautifully. There’s something about the world of turn-of-the-century New York that captivated me wholly. Robert De Niro convincingly portrays an early version of Marlon Brando’s creation, from his economy of words to his powerful presence. His main arc involves his new neighbourhood’s mob boss, Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin), and planning revenge on the man who killed his parents. It’s a relatively basic story in comparison to Michael’s, but that’s what I was drawn to.
I can understand why some people think this is the better film, or even put it on a par with The Godfather and consider it one long saga (wisely ending before The Godfather Part III, more thoughts on that soon) and perhaps with a few more viewings I’ll have a better understanding of everything that is going on, who is whom and where everyone is at any given point, but after this kind-of-second viewing, I can appreciate this film for its film-making prowess, I can heartily recommend it to everyone willing to overcome the 200 minute run-time, but given the choice I’ll pick the first film over this one four times out of five.

Choose Film 8/10

8 thoughts on “The Godfather Part II

  1. I feel the same way. I’ve actually written on this, but I found it really, really hard to follow precisely what was going on with Michael Corleone. I think it had something to do with assassinations. And Fredo was ratting on him? Or something? It has its moments, but I was always wishing I could be watching more De Niro, less Pacino.

    • Exactly! Yeah I didn’t mind the Fredo storyline of Michael’s half (more Fredo = more John Cazale = fine by me) but all the business in Cuba and with Hyman Roth left me lost.

  2. I’m still on the side of the sequel. And yes, Cazale’s performance is ridiculously good. Then again, so is DeNiro. I know I’m on an island with this one, but I’ll forever maintain that he gave us a better Vito than Brando. Blasphemy, I know. Interestingly enough, I actually found the original harder to follow with the endless number of people wandering into the story from any of the “five families.” Could be just me, though.

    • I don’t disagree with you on both points – I think De Niro gives an excellent Vito, and gets more to do with the role so it’s completely understandable to prefer him over Brando. I think Brando is a more popular choice purely for how iconic the character he crafted became.

      And as for getting confused character-wise in The Godfather I’m completely with you, but as it was just with various members of the five families I just chalked them all up to being “the bad guys” and left it at that. They all come to the same end, after all, so there wasn’t much point distinguishing between them for me.

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