Take a Drink: for name character deaths
Take a Drink: whenever Fredo is disrespected or shat on
Take a Drink: whenever something is done in the name of honor or saving face
Take a Drink: whenever Michael sits… like a Godfather
Take a Drink: for each time transition
Do a Shot: for the kiss
Do a Shot: when Michael has to get his hands dirty himself
Do a Shot: “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”
By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
As with The Godfather: Part I, Part II has been the subject of enough newsprint to choke J. Jonah Jameson, so what angle to approach this review from, drinking game excepted? Did you know it was the first numbered sequel?
Okay, how about this eternal debate? Is Part II the rare sequel that bests the original, as some will tell you? Let’s dig in and see.
The Godfather: Part II continues Michael’s journey of criminal depravity (even though his soul was basically lost already by the end of Part I), but parallels it with the story of his father Vito’s rise from orphaned kingpin to the respected and powerful Don we see in the opening wedding sequence of the first film. Like most sequels, it doesn’t stray too far from the template of the first film, but unlike the vast majority, it deepens and comments on its themes in a way that makes both films measurably richer.
This structure allows us to compare Vito’s rise with Michael’s, and even though both are unquestionably criminals, the contrast between Vito’s sense of honor and family and the depths Michael sinks to, eventually violating all of his father’s ideals, lends a positively Shakespearean bent to this quintessentially American familial tragedy.
Or Biblical, considering the whole Cain & Abel angle
Pacino and Robert De Niro, cast *kisses fingers* perfettamente as a young Vito Corleone, carry the film. It’s insane that Pacino didn’t win an Oscar for this role, as to date it is the most complex and riveting of his career. We watch him destroy himself and what his father wrought, and yet we still are very much in his corner by the end. De Niro takes Brando’s inflection and mannerisms and arguably steals his role from him, clarifying a character that was rather thinly (but monumentally) sketched in the first film. It’s hardly a two-man show, though, as Duvall continues his conflicting, dependable characterization, Keaton sinks her teeth into the role of a woman realizing the monster her husband’s becoming, and Cazale arguably steals the show as the craven, jealous, and terribly naive Fredo, forever turning everything he turns to shit like the anti-Midas.
Just try saying his name without an exasperated sigh.
Technical-wise, this is a step up on the first film in every way, with DP Gordon Willis neatly differentiating the two timelines with muted, shadow-drenched, and coldly composed visuals in Michael’s story, contrasting with the sepia-toned, more lively flashbacks to turn of the century New York for Vito’s. Coppola and his production design, costuming, and effects teams bring this period to thrilling life, performing the same trick for 1950s Lake Tahoe, Havana, and Miami. Lastly, the symbolism, like the money-covered Madonna in the street procession, or Hyman Roth literally carving a birthday cake adorned with a map of Cuba at a mob summit/his birthday, is a assured as ever, and ensures that even the 20th viewing of this film and its predecessor will yield new interpretations and richer themes.
So, about that thesis. Despite a vocal crowd that calls this the exception to the “sequels are always worse” rule, Part I is indeed better… a teensy bit better. Part II is not as tightly plotted, and not as zeitgeist-grabbing iconic (which, admittedly, may have been a bit of a conscious rebuttal to the amateur sociopaths that see role models in Michael or Vito), but more importantly it doesn’t really say anything that wasn’t perfectly encapsulated in Part I. That being said, it does somehow magnify the brilliance of the first, and taken as one, holistic work, gives the world a uniquely American, uniquely 20th century work of art that can be shamelessly placed alongside Shakespeare, Homer, and Dante on the highest shelves of the Western Cultural Canon.