If you have any love for Francis Ford Coppola’s original Godfather, than that love only gets expanded in his The Godfather Part II. For me, my first full viewing of The Godfather just teetered on really good, it almost fell under great. After finally seeing Part II in one sitting, it pushes the both films over the edge and Part II is even more marvelous than the original.
The film is broken into two stories. We flashback to see Vito as a child who travels to America on his own and his beginnings that turn him into a powerful and ruthless mafia man. In the present, Michael is being tested and has to regain control of the family and prove his worth.
After Part I, character of Vito is a legend, but we only saw pieces move at his command, never by his own hands. Seeing Vito’s youth is an eye opening experience into what molded this character. As a boy in Sicily, his entire family was murdered by Don Ciccio and he had to escape to America. As a young man in the 1920’s, Vito (Robert de Niro) observes the corruption within his New York neighborhood and murders his way to the top, earning respect and fear, thus beginning the Corleone family.
In the present time, Michael (Al Pacino) is dealing with some issues of trust and control within the Corleone family and trying to expand their business into Hollywood, Las Vegas and pre-revolution Cuba. Early, there’s an assassination attempt on his life from someone very close and he has to figure out who is responsible. Later, in Washington DC there is an investigation on the Corleone family going on where Michael is pulling strings and denying all accusations that we witnessed in the first film. But there could be one witness the family can’t get to in time.
One of the key scenes of this film, that I remember seeing as a young kid, is when Vito assassinates Fanucci (Gaston Moschin). The neighborhood festa is going on, some of those images stayed with me as a kid, especially the Jesus thing with money all over it people are carrying in the street. As Fanucci, sticking out with his white hat, moves through the congested street, Vito is on the rooftops slowly keeping an eye on him. It looks like Vito has planned a way into the building from the roof, and methodically has a towel waiting to help unscrew the light-bulb and hide the gun. The suspense tightens as Fanucci enters the building, notices the light-bulb and we watch Vito wait, the light-bulb flickering and revealing him in the shadows. The shooting is ruthless, one bullet would have done the job, but Vito shoots Fanucci twice then straight into his mouth once he’s fallen on the floor. Then Vito goes home to his family and holds baby Michael.
This scene always made me wonder a few things. Do the brothers know this history about their father? Do they realize the violence he was capable of, the people he had killed? Does Michael truly know the ruthlessness he is expected to live up to? To some extent, I believe the brothers are still just boys stuck playing their father’s game. But Michael is slowly starting to live up to his father.
Robert DeNiro won an Oscar for his performance. Really, whole film full of great acting including four other acting nominations, but DeNiro has an odd talent over the rest. He has this uncanny ability to look like Marlon Brando’s old saggy faced Vito only thirty years younger. The personality is there and I found a few choice moments that I didn’t see a famous actor, but a portrait of the young Vito. You know that moment in The Kids Are All Right where Julianne Moore says she keeps seeing the kids’ expressions in Mark Ruffalo’s face. It’s like that, only not natural but a really weird talent that DeNiro must possess, because I was not expecting that. Watch and see if you see it as well.
Let me put up a little “SPOILER ALERT” sign, I want to talk about a twisty moment. If you haven’t seen the film, skip to the next paragraph. Okay, One aspect I find especially interesting is Michael and Kay’s relationship, especially toward the ending. Throughout the film, Kay (Diane Keaton) is pregnant and Michael is hoping for another boy to hand the business down to. But Kay has an abortion, she tells Michael she doesn’t want to bring any more of his children into this world. Notice, this is the late 1950’s, the feminist movement is just around the corner. This makes me ask, will the family fall because of the wives, sisters and daughters? I ask politely, please don’t ruin this for me in your comments, I have yet to see Part III, but I know not to have great expectations.
No matter how Part III turns out, I never realized I could love The Godfather series so much. As a kid, my dad showed me a few scenes as he flipped channels: the horse head, Fanucci’s assassination, bullets flying through Michael and Kay’s bedroom window. These were unusually violent scenes for a small kid and they really stuck. We usually skipped the talk, the less exciting explanations of these violent events and I was left for years thinking that The Godfather was just a weird bloody film. I don’t blame my dad for leaving out the meat of the story and just showing me the saucy blood, he knew what images would stick with me. One day, I hope to see Part I and Part II back-to-back, no skipping around.
“You father has plans for your future.”