BP’s Top 100 Challenge #9: The Godfather: Part II, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I’m not shy about the fact that I really do not like the mobster movie genre. I was delighted earlier in the year to find that I enjoyed Goodfellas, so I held out some hope that I had misjudged the genre and maybe I would actually like the Godfather films. That is not the case. I watched both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II because I didn’t want to watch the sequel without having seen the first one. While I do like The Godfather: Part II a little more I was not a big fan of either films. I have given it some thought to try and understand why I don’t enjoy the films and I think it comes down to the fact that “family/mob” politics is completely uninteresting to me. The performances are great, the script is well written, the direction is strong, and the set design/costumes/makeup are all great. So, when I think about the film in pieces it should add up to a film I like, but as a whole it fails for me.
I do have to say, I think this is my favorite performance by Al Pacino. Pacino is reserved as Michael Corleone but he is the personification of a coiled snake. He feels so dangerous and you would just pray that he never snapped at you. Pacino has given some really over the top performances in his career, but I really enjoyed this early performance. He drew you in through his silence and quiet danger. Michael was a student of his father and he learned how to push people’s buttons, how to stay one step ahead of the game, and how to be a master manipulator. This was even more evident in this second film when Michael is the head of the family.
The parts of the film that I enjoy the most are the flashback to Vito Corleone and how he became the Godfather. The present-day story around Michael Corleone was far less compelling to me and I was always happy when we back to the Vito storyline. Robert De Niro does a nice job transitioning to a Marlon Brando impression slowly throughout the film. I liked seeing how a little orphan boy from Italy could build an empire from nothing by meeting the “right” people and being willing to do whatever it took to come out on top. His revenge for his family when he came back to Italy was satisfying as was his rise to power. It was also interesting to see how the actions of his father so clearly shaped the path that Michael finally followed.
The family politics and maneuvering was not what interested me but I do have to admit I liked the elements of betrayal and the incredible capacity the characters had to hold grudges. The moment in Cuba when you see that Michael has realized that Fredo betrayed him hits the viewer like a ton of bricks. As he stands there in that weird sex club surrounded by men who he is trying to manipulate and he realizes that his brother is a liar, you can see Michael working out the next step and the step after that and how all the pieces will need to fall into place so that he stays on top. It was a fascinating performance and one of the highlights of the film.
Another part of the story that I really like is about Michael and Kay’s marriage and children. That was much more entertaining to me than the mob maneuvering. I kept wishing that Kay had never married him and that she could find a way out. That was always going to be a terrible life for her and her children were going to bear the responsibility of the family as they grew. When it is revealed that Kay is pregnant in the beginning of the film I groaned out loud. Then later when Kay reveals that she had an abortion to spare her baby that life I was glad that she finally had seen the light about her husband. He is very cruel at the end when he only gives her visitation rights to her kids, but she also should have known that he would never let her have the kids. That part of the story is very compelling and held my interest far more than all the stuff about Hyman Roth or the federal case against the Corleone’s.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
The Godfather: Part II ranking: Submarine