Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Godfather - Part II

In 1974, two years after the original Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola released the sequel, starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Robert DeNiro as young Don Vito Corleone. I am usually not a fan of sequels, as directors typically try to capitalize on the elements that made the success of part I, and typically fail. Well, not here.


First thing to say, it is not possible to watch part II without having seen part I. That would be way too confusing.

We follow two stories in parallel here. We get to the origins of Vito Corleone and his rise to the ultimate Godfather role. Robert DeNiro impersonates younger Vito.

The godfather was born Vito Andolini, in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1901 his father was murdered for an insult to the local Mafia chieftain. His older brother Paolo swore revenge and disappeared into the hills, leaving Vito, the only male heir, to stand with his mother at the funeral. He was nine years old.

DeNiro is amazing and totally right for this part. He is a family man at heart, wiling only a better life.

There is a fun reference to the first part, too:

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don' refuse. Don' worry.


Most of the movie is dedicated to Michael though. It starts with an assassination attempt and we see him consolidate his power and destroying his enemies ruthlessly, even his own brother, Fredo.


Michael Corleone: I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.

Michael Corleone: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Michael: I don't want anything to happen to him while my mother's alive.


The two stories run in parallel, but I had difficulties seeing similarities, it felt a bit like watching two movies. Thinking about it a bit more though, I developed another point of view. Don Vito is a family man, who starts his “career” protecting the weak, through terror admittedly, but not siding with the “bad guys”: to some extent he turns into the person he is protecting the people from. But he keeps a side of humanity. He is respected as a man of morality, duty and principles, loved as a father  husband and friend, and is feared as a Don who never spares the enemy.

Meanwhile, Michael turns out to be more ruthless than his father. Betrayal after betrayal, he starts losing faith in the member of his family and, instead of gathering them around him, he alienates everyone who cares for him. This is particularly clear in the last shot, where he is alone, contemplating his actions and thinking back about his childhood. Ironically, we see Fredo was the only one who supported his decision to join the Navy. Pacino shows two aspects of Michael, quiet and pensive, then raging and scheming. In Part I, Michael did not want to become a man like his father and years later we see he has become much worse. In the end, the legacy of Vito Corleone is destroyed.

This makes me wonder about the power of fate: when you have everything for you, values and principles, and a vision for what your life is going to be, how much can elements interfere? And if you go another path, how much of what you become is really you, how much a just down to the circumstances? Because that's what happens to Michael, that's what happens to any of us actually, a reflection on "what if"?

The movie places a lot of emphasis on family and particularly on the father and son relationship, so it is a bit surprising never to see Michael with his children. While Vito is loving and caring, Michael never shows affection to his son, who is merely an heir. This makes it easier to understand the two ways of running the “Family” – Vito was a man who wanted to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, while Michael is decided to just wipe out anyone who resists him. The last question we could ask is whether Michael really cares for anyone: it becomes clearer and clearer he considers himself the “owner” of his brothers, his wife, his sister, and everything around him. Is it the case? Maybe Part III will tell. Until then….

1 comment:

  1. Godfather 2 is a marvel of film-making. The sets, the tint of the 1917 scenes, the costumes, the acting, it's all just perfect. I actually stopped watching Godfather 3 a third of the way through, even though it's a pretty good movie, simply because it couldn't measure up.