Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Photography: Gordon Willis
Music: Nino Rota
Editors: Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, Peter Zinner
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Richard Bright, Gastone Moschin, Tom Rosqui, Bruno Kirby, Frank Sivero, Francesca De Sapio, Morgana King, Marianna Hill, Leopoldo Trieste, Dominic Chianese, Amerigo Tot, Troy Donahue, John Aprea, Joe Spinell, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Tere Livrano, Gianni Russo, Maria Carta, Oreste Baldini, Giuseppe Sillato, Mario Cotone, James Gounaris, Fay Spain, Harry Dean Stanton, David Baker, Carmine Caridi, Danny Aiello, Joseph Medeglia, William Bowers, Roger Corman
As someone who has struggled most of my adult life to maintain a healthy weight, I'm well aware of one of the knottiest problems of all involving some of the best things available in life: the desire for seconds. And thirds. The irresistible idea that more automatically equates to better. If one is good, two is better, and three even better than that.
The Godfather: Part II, Francis Ford Coppola's large-scale sequel to The Godfather, followed the original by a couple of years and comes with more of everything: more minutes, more cast members, more locations, more budget for more production values. It's bigger in just about every way imaginable. "More, more, more," as Andrea True sang. "How do you like it? How do you like it?"
The result has produced a spectrum of strange response. Many flat-out call Part II the better movie. Others make an argument that seems at first reasonable on its face that it is all a single film. This is likely because Coppola has on more than one occasion obligingly edited them together with footage not in either movie (and thrown The Godfather: Part III into the mix too, after that came along) to create giant amalgams whose last incarnation approached 10 hours. (I have seen none of these.) "Sight & Sound," for one, takes the latter position for the poll of film critics that it conducts every 10 years.
I'm skeptical about most of this. And I want to be clear here. I have little quarrel with the critical consensus uncovered at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?—which treats The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II as I do, as two separate movies—that Part II is the greatest sequel ever made. (Certainly with Roman numerals at any rate; I think I may be a bit more partial overall to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is actually the third of a series.) I just don't think Part II ever manages escape velocity from the almost perfect gravity of the first; it seems to me more content rather to wallow in that picture's various hard-won accomplishments and repeatedly take smart advantage of its greater resources in reworking them.
There's no question, in general terms, that Coppola has rarely been in better form; and with a much bigger budget and more cooperation from the studio than he had with the first, he's bracingly given his head here to just simply go forth and work out very fine sequences. The period detail is far more convincing than with the first. The screenplay is nearly as full of lines that have become coin of the realm: "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." "I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom—just my enemies, that's all."
Numerous fine performances, large and small, appear all through (just look at that cast listing!), and scenes—such as the epic last battle between Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) and his wife Kay (played by Diane Keaton)—are expertly staged and executed, with players absolutely at the top of their games. Gordon Willis's photography is every bit as good—better, even, elaborating a trick I didn't notice done nearly as well in the first, which is to shoot his figures in interiors against the outdoor light from windows, rendering them as black shapes yet with identifiable profiles, the very epitome of dark actors.
But in the end Part II is such a shaggy, misshapen mess, a wild-eyed finger-pointing exercise in moral putrescence that's altogether just too easy. Sure, it's convincing on the substance. But it's not hard going in to guess that the Mafia won't turn out to be the good guys. In the end, no matter how well done it is, I don't think it's ever able to transcend its status as a sequel. It remains an echo and lumpy extension of the original, returning to the same ground and treading the old footprints.
In fact, Part II often rehashes in painfully obvious ways many of the most memorable moments from the first. Kick off the picture with a lavish and grotesquely overdone party even as "the Godfather" conducts business behind closed doors; check (in the first it's a wedding, in II it's a
Most telling for me is that the first actually tells a dramatically dynamic story with a narrative arc that unfolds naturally across its events. Michael Corleone, a World War II hero, has rejected his family's old-world Sicilian values, but he is inexorably drawn back into its orbit out of events that occur in combination with his love for his family, and finally he is corrupted. Part II starts with that corruption already in place and plays a three-hour+ game of "how low do you go?" It essentially starts on the moral level from the first of the baptism scene and takes us ever darker and deeper in.
Eye of the beholder, and all that. It could be as simple as that I have little interest, or maybe the word is "stomach," for machinations of power, which in the end is all that Part II is about. Men with power (and yes, in case you don't know, everything you've heard is true, there are barely any women here at all, certainly beyond those systematically beaten down and otherwise abused) go to extraordinary lengths to hold, maintain, and expand that power. This is news? No, but then, in fairness, neither is "people who love one another often don't treat each other well," which is the kind of story I myself am always ready to watch another version of.
So if Part II seems to me too often to go well off the rails and wrap itself around the thickets of a byzantine plot involving the brutal calculations and gamesmanship and betrayals among three vastly uninteresting men—Michael Corleone, Hyman Roth (played by Lee Strasberg), and Frankie Pentangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo)—well, that might be just what the doctor ordered for others. And the lengthy 200 minutes well more feature than bug.