Monday, March 19, 2012
GODFATHER - PART II, THE
(December 1974, U.S.)
Is it really possible that THE GODFATHER-PART II is actually better than THE GODFATHER? Too many people seem to think so; film scholars, film critics and film fans alike. I suppose there ARE multiple reasons to back up a claim like that. After all, you have a stellar cast giving the greatest performances of their careers as well as a far deeper character study into Micheal Corleone and Vito Corleone as a young man in a second parallel storyline. That being the case, there must be something seriously wrong with me, because as much as I worship THE GODFATHER - PART II as a truly significant motion picture, there is that part of me that continuously returns to not only the beginning of the Corleone saga as the superior storyline, but also the weight and strength of Marlon Brando's character and presence on screen that truly makes the film the unique piece of art that it is. So there you have it, folks...I personally find THE GODFATHER to be a better film than it's much celebrated sequel. Don't kill me.
Having gotten that confession out of the way, let's take some time to focus on who Michael Corleone is now and who he's ultimately destined to become. When we last left him, he'd just gotten his feet wet in the corruption of the "family business" and was about to move his entire family out to Nevada where he could exercise his control over the gambling casinos. He has, in my opinion, become a truly frightening character by now because with the exception of a few selected moments of extreme Pacino-style yelling, he's a very quiet and very intense person who's learned to never let his enemies see him coming. When an attempted assassination against him in his home fails, he very cleverly manipulates both sides with a deceiving false sense of friendship and loyalty to weed out the traitor within his own family. What he cannot possibly fathom is the traitor being his own flesh and blood; his seemeingly weaker older brother, Fredo. It's a shocking idea to conceive and yet fiction is literally filled to the brim with stories of blood brothers betraying each other. It's also one of the oldest cliches that the answer to the big mystery will lie in the last place you'd ever think to look.
Keeping in mind that much of Micahel's strength and power comes from refusing to show any signs of weakness, it becomes clear in his own mind that there's only one way to deal with Fredo's betrayal, brother or not. It's almost hard to believe that even a criminal like Michael Corleone will sink to the lowest levels of Hell as to have his own brother murdred, but it would appear that one's true lust for power has no restrictions whatsoever. The line is crossed, betrayal is avenged and a soul is lost...at least until PART III, that is.
Taking a look at young Vito, his rise to power is based on a much simpler set of circumstances, though still tied into the premise of protecting one's family. By the sheer chance of losing his job one day due to Mafia influence and the illness of baby Fredo, Vito takes on a less-than-honest approach to life in order to make sure that his family never goes hungry. What begins as simple petty crime in an effort to survive inevitably becomes a hunger and lust for power that is passed down from father to sons. Ah, the American dream is alive and well!
So, just to recap, in the span of six and a half hours (both films together) we've seen a young man who started out as the symbol of decency and goodness who, in an effort to protect his family, slowly turned to the dark side and became the very thing he'd originally sought to avoid becoming. Say, is it just me, or does this sound a lot like the story of Anakin Skywalker?? I suppose the only real question with that is who came up with that idea first - Mario Puzo or George Lucas?
THE GODFATHER-PART II won the Oscar for best picture of 1974, the only film sequel to ever achieve that honor until the third LORD OF THE RINGS film in 2003.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michael Corleone (after giving his brother the "kiss of death" on the lips): "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"