jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
My history of “The Godfather: Part II” spans several years – and several viewings – of my life, each moment culminating in where I am currently. My mother, who I often credit with kickstarting my love for Cinema, showed me “The Godfather” at a very formative time in my life: my taste was changing from Blockbuster extravaganza to certified Classics of the medium and when she showed me it, it changed how I viewed Cinema – it had awakened something deep within me and allowed me to view movies as something other than entertainment. They were a form of art. But “The Godfather: Part II” saw how I viewed Cinema during that life-changing viewing and decided to raise the bar – with one viewing, “The Godfather: Part II” became my all-time favorite film and I thought nothing could ever dethrone it – at this time, it’s probably one of the few films I still consider vying for that illustrious title.
Like the first film, it had been a while since I last dove into the murkiness that is “The Godfather: Part II” (same story as the first one – no need explaining it here) and I'm still impressed with how much this amazes me, impresses me, and breaks me into a million little pieces. Coppola laid down the framework of what this trilogy could reach with “The Godfather,” but with this, it expanded upon that framework: everything became heightened, almost untouchable with “The Godfather: Part II.” The emotion reached an all-time high, the pain reached an all-time high, and the storytelling – shaped around a prequel and a sequel – reached, you guessed it, an all-time high. To some, it may come off as convoluted and wildly ambitious – this is Coppola’s most ambitious film yet – and maybe even a touch messy, but that’s the intention: what we’re seeing is the growth and decay, the birth and the death – history literally crafted from work and how it doesn’t repeat.
I stand by my assessment that “The Godfather: Part II” is Coppola’s most ambitious work and it’s because of the narrative structure – you can have the insanity of “Apocalypse Now” or the elegance of “One from the Heart” and those are wickedly ambitious (no question), but where Coppola’s strength lies in his direction is how he lingers on moments and stitches each cut together to create an atmospheric and poetic experience: “The Godfather: Part II,” with its prequel-sequel flashback-flashforward structure, sees Coppola creating a story that coincides with the past and the present, how each cut from Michael to Vito signifies some sort of connection as to why we see it – perhaps to allow us to see how Vito created something Michael is losing – and each cut sees Coppola strengthening his thematic core with “The Godfather: Part II.” It’s his most ambitious because it is, unquestionably, his most emotional work – perhaps not his most personal, but this is his most emotional: there is so much clashing with the past and present and at the center, the expressions and reaction.
While the first film focuses itself in discussing and analyzing the foundation of the Corleone children and their father, “The Godfather: Part II” takes the foundation explored between Michael and Vito and compares their settings and actions with each other’s as it pertains to themselves – how Michael acts in comparison to Vito – and their Families: Vito creates the Family and Michael is forced to watch the Family crumble. The rooms in “The Godfather” exude a sense of warmth and compassion – Vito, as shown in the past, is a very sympathetic and understanding man, but he’s also an observant and intelligent person with a sense of control: we’re only given snippets of Vito’s story (in comparison to Michael’s which seems more complete than Vito’s) because these are moments that relate to Michael’s situation in the present. Once Vito comes into power, that warmth and understanding from the first one matches his youth: the kindness, but also that power.
When we cut back to Michael, those rooms are shot like the first one – that orange glow with the shadows surrounding each character as they cloud their eyes, and the chair that the Don sits in while you explain your problem or your request. But Michael is nothing like Vito – his room is very cold, almost as if you’ve stepped into the arctic. Michael looks at each person who visits him and sits with an almost dead expression: the time the person is wasting talking to him, the idea that he’s the one in control and exudes that power through his swagger and intellect and not his heart and emotion – he strikes fear even in his family; Kay fears him because he’s becoming something she doesn’t recognize (that man we see in the beginning has become something so otherworldly), Fredo fears him because of his power, Tom fears him because of his detachedness – it is unquestionable that Michael is more ruthless than his father in that he secludes himself and doesn’t trust anyone, he doesn’t connect and he shuts himself in. One of the reasons The Family crumbles is because of that inability to separate himself from that coldness.
This is a film about Michael – the whole saga is about Michael, but this one is truly about him: it’s the one that examines him deeper than any of the films and I think that’s where the pain and emotion comes in and why “The Godfather: Part II” hits harder than any film in the trilogy. We’re constantly reminded of the World War II hero who wanted nothing to do with the business: he wanted Kay and him to conquer the world in their own way and he ended up falling farther down the hole than any of his family members did. The tragedy is that in reality, he did want to make his father proud and we get the sense in that in this film: he’s constantly reminded of his father – through memories, through his father’s old adversaries, through his siblings – and he does want him to be proud of his decisions (the memory of Michael signing up for the war is vital because it shows how alone he was then in his decision: he was setting himself up to be a part of the cog, but enlisted so he could find his own way – how alone he is after making that decision: smoking his cigarette and looking off in the distance).
The tragedy of Michael Corleone is that no matter how much he tried to run the Family as well as he thought he could, he’s never going to be his father. No matter how much he proclaimed he’d avoid the business, he found himself at the head of it. His life was plagued with tragedy – Sonny's death, his father’s assassination attempt, killing McClusky and Sollozzo – and it was plagued with the tragedy of what he did after becoming Don: he isolated himself from everyone because he didn’t trust anyone, he instructed fear because he feared connecting with someone, he killed his brother Fredo because he broke Michael’s heart when, it was Michael who broke Fredo’s and drove him into the arms of betrayal. None of his sons – Sonny, Tom, Fredo, Michael – could match Vito’s reign, but Michael was the closest person to do it (after all, he is his favorite): the tragedy is that Michael tried so hard to avoid this and then become a part of this life, he tried to emulate his father but couldn’t. He became something he loathes. And the ending, with him sitting in his chair, thinking about how much he wants to change everything: he wants to avoid becoming the Don, he wants to avoid killing Fredo, he wants to save his marriage, he wants to save himself – but he cannot, and he represses all that and buries it deep down within him. He’s become the Devil he swore to fend off. And all he can do is think and live: think about all the things he’s done; live with the decisions he’s made even if it pains him.
One Final Note: Pacino. If not the best performance of all-time (which is very well could be), the greatest performance of the 1970s. I don’t even need to mention why – watch the fucking movie and prove me otherwise. Yeah, this may be my favorite film again.