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.
Practically 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