Francis Ford Coppola directs Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and John Cazale in this continuation of the Corleone mafia saga taking in Michael’s frustrated attempts to expand his criminal empire’s control into Nevada, Cuba and Hollywood while we also look back at his father’s early days in America.
The first year of committing to my movie blog I have mainly tried to see a lot of new stuff or revisit forgotten friends. This year I am going to focus on getting my thoughts down about the undisputed “greats.” Sometimes though you revisit a movie that you have always loved and it diminishes a little for you. Just slightly in the case of the second Godfather. It is still an epic achievement, rich and gratifying. De Niro’s performance as young Vito is compelling without ever becoming a pastiche of Brando (an actor who must have been a God to callow young Bobby D back then). Yet Michael’s various plots seem like they are treading water until the big massacre finale – that cold, bloody montage set piece that Godfathers inevitably have to build to. I’m not saying watching Pacino and one the greatest confluences of character actors ever “tread water” is in anyway dull but it lacks a little of the forceful purpose of the original. And I felt that this sitting. Gripe aside, Coppola’s continued achievement is to expand time, to bare witness to both innocent origins of organised crime and the hubris that meant it eventually ate into itself so publicly. There’s ever so much meat to consume at over three hours long. The acting is predictably elegant, you cannot single one person out, they all chime in harmony. Gordon Willis’ play with black shade and fading light is so masterful that when we do visit the harsh brightness of senate hearings or business meeting on Havana rooftops (where empires are sliced up with actual cake), it feels uncomfortably alien. This is a underworld that operates best in darkened corners of brothels, backstage at theatres and in dens where men go to whisper. To throw a light on it destroys the illusion there is any true control or organisation. Just look at young Vito’s hit on the odious Don Fanucci who leaches off his own neighbourhood. He taps at a disconnected electric lightbulb, expecting his world to work for him, to look the way he wants it. Instead he doesn’t see his more genial successor waiting in the shadows, ready to make his first kill. The measured pace means we breathe all this refinement in and the truly ambitious scope that frames all this intimate attention to detail is inspiring. As crime sagas go this in indisputably cut from the same superior cloth as it predecessor, we are spoilt by getting more of the same. But I wonder if an even greater story would have been to truly examine Vito’s rise to Godfather (with De Niro the sole focus of that luxurious runtime) rather than it being a mere side dish while we wallow in Michael’s ennui as our entree.