The Godfather: Part II: Visions Of America

Continuing the saga of the Corleone Crime Family: we follow a young Vito Corleone/Andolini (Oreste Baldini) who is forced to flee Sicily when his father is hit by the mob and his mother is killed when she tries to get revenge. Previously Andolini, Vito Corleone has to make a life for himself in New York in the 1910s. We are witness to flash forwards/flashbacks between 1921 Vito (Robert DeNiro) as man in New York to the 1950s where his son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is now head of the Corleone Crime Family. We follow Michael in the around, as he tires to grow the family business from its roots in New York to Las Vegas, LA and the cigar capital of the world, Cuba.

The Godfather: Part II is the origins story of Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro). Director Francis Ford Coppola tells the tale of his rise to fame into the centre of the New York Mafia. It shows us how he fell in with Clemenza and Tessio. It shows us how he came to be in the United States. It shows us how he was as a young man and his relationship with Carmella, and his family in his days on the streets of New York in the 1910s. He was the man of the neighbourhood. He was a giver. Henry Hill calls the Mafia “a police department for wiseguys” in Goodfellas, and Vito propagates that in both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. And I have no shame in saying I liked it.

Oreste Baldini plays a young Vito Andolini fleeing Sicily and then becomes Vito Corleone on arrival in USA
(The Godfather: Part II, Paramount Pictures)

I’m not sure if Part II is a sequel because it is a prequel and a sequel, since half of the story takes place in the 1910s following young Vito (DeNiro) and his exploits in The Big Apple in his rise to fame, as well as taking out the local kingpin Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin). Robert DeNiro is my favourite actor and he’s done many brilliant films since this picture. But to this day, I still don’t believe he has done a better performance on screen in the forty-odd years since the release of The Godfather Part II. Robert DeNiro as Vito Corleone is one of the best film roles and film performances in living memory and honestly, it was straight from the pages of Puzo’s novel.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” says Michael (Al Pacino), reiterating something his father (Marlon Brando) used to say. “I don’t want to kill everyone, just my enemies”  Michael says to Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). It goes to show how different Michael and his father were in terms of leadership and methodology. They were two very different men doing the same job. And much alike the first film, Al Pacino (Scarface) gives a performance to kill and I think he hasn’t delivered a better performance in his career since playing Michael Corleone in the three masterful Godfather films. There’s something about these characters that holds you. Brilliant stuff indeed.

Robert DeNiro plays young Vito Corleone on the streets of New York in The Godfather: Part II
(The Godfather: Part II, Paramount Pictures)

Again, alike to the first film, the screenplay is the stuff dreams are made and really blows one away. It’s dense and twists, making a snake-like path into your heart at a relentless pace. The two hundred-minute running time goes like that. It’s a film that doesn’t stilt. Not at any time does this film feel boring, nor does it lag. The pacing of this picture is film-gasmic. The cinematography is bleak and eerie, with Nino Rota’s score playing away in the background. His composition is my favourite score of all time and it sucks you in. The score comes with a cheeky grin and it’s the sort of music that has the ability to foreshadow your own death, and then wham! Creepily good.

Part II is not about the mob like The Godfather was. It’s about men and how men have to struggle and work hard to get what they want. Respect is a virtue which is earned and we see this through Vito who doesn’t like how Don Fanucci shakes the poorest man down just because he can. Then we have his son Michael in the 1950s in control of a large conglomerate. He grows paranoid, not knowing who to trust and has a distaste for his father’s friends, like Tessio and Clemenza, men who have been with the Corleones since day one. Michael grows tired and stressed, and seems to hate his own personality. He hates the fact that he IS his father’s son, born to be The Godfather.

“I know it was you Fredo, you broke my heart. You broke my heart!” – Michael finding out of Fredo’s betrayal
(The Godfather: Part II, Paramount Pictures)

If I was looking at this movie as a “normal” person, this would a sequel, it’s got “Part II” as half of its title. For argument’s sake, this is a sequel and it’s one of the best sequels ever made. And honestly, the majority of sequels in the modern day have now been branded with “sequel syndrome” which means that second movies often end up being a tragedy. May they rest in peace. Part II is said to be better than the original Godfather. Do I agree? Well, it depends what mood you catch me in. It varies from day to day, and today I like them just as much as each other. They’re both masterpieces and they’re movies I can seamlessly watch time and time again.

I always get emotional with The Godfather Trilogy. I think it’s because of Coppola and Puzo’s whole depiction of family and it gets to me. Non-white (excluding Irish) families often take the concept more seriously than whites English/American families. Asian, Blacks, Italians, Jews and the Irish in my experience have the tight family unit. The trilogy is no different and it depicts The Family as more than just lawbreakers who are not afraid of cracking skulls to get what they want. Everything they do is for each other. They do it for their brothers, their sisters, their parents, cousins and so on. And honestly, it’s quite remarkable. The idea of the Mafia Family really gets to me.

Cold and calculating, but not completely cruel, nobody else could play Michael Corleone like Al Pacino
(The Godfather: Part II, Paramount Pictures)

The Godfather: Part II puts masculinity on exhibition more so than its predecessor, as depicted with Michael’s relationship with Kay Adams (Diane Keaton). It’s just so 70s in the way he throws her about. Sure Golden Age movies did that, but the 70s was unapologetically masculine and didn’t give two hoots how it looked. From the score to the sets to the acting to the story, this is another masterpiece and it is on my shortlist of blindspot-worthy perfect films.

Family is everything, and The Corleones put this concept on exhibition

One comment