The Godfather: The Beginning
Rule of thumb, sequels tend to suck, but there are the rare exceptions and probably the best exception is the stunning "The Godfather: Part II" a movie which is almost the equal of "The Godfather". And how did Francis Ford Coppola give us such a good sequel, well not only did he give us more of the same as he continued the story of Michael as he leads the Corleone family now living in Nevada but he also gave us a prequel, establishing how Vito Corleone came to America and rose to power. It's ambitious, two movies in one and as such at 200 minutes "The Godfather: Part II" is a long movie and not a movie for those looking for simple entertainment as again this is a movie of depth, of what is being said rather than what is said. And in giving us two stories we have fascinating parallels as we watch Vito builds the family gaining respect, whilst Michael deals with betrayal and a family which is fragmenting.
So as already mentioned "The Godfather: Part II" is basically two movies in one a continuation and a prequel and as such we go from Michael's story in 1958 and then to 1917 and Vito's story. Now at times this switch doesn't work, basically early on whilst Vito's storyline is establishing itself but then once it has it then comes together quite nicely. And what I mean by that is whilst we watch Michael expanding the business into Nevada he has to deal with treachery and the family shattering in front of his eyes, whilst with Vito we watch him establish the family, his close friends, his children and him running the original Genco business. It stops these two separate storylines from being separate because of the way the stories sort of run in parallel.
So as to the two stories well as already mentioned with Michael we basically have a continuation of him heading the family, it is 7 years since he took over, he still wants to make it legitimate but still has to deal with the underhand side of the business. As such early on at a family celebration, a nice parallel to the first movie, we learn about Frankie Pentangeli back in New York wanting Michael's permission to attack another family, causing issues with a deal he is trying to put together to gain more control of the casinos. And we also get treachery as someone tries to kill him. It means that we have Michael having to deal with his own morals, about the importance of family and keeping your enemies close as he tries to establish who it is who wants him dead, which leads to a couple of the movies most poignant and well known scenes. We also have Michael being investigated by a committee over the business causing him to dig deep into his connections to protect himself.
The interesting part of all this is that the whole story brings Michael's inherited belief in the importance of family into conflict. His relationship with Kay struggles as she has tired of the criminal life he leads and Connie dislikes his attempts to bring her back into the family. There is also treachery which leads to tough decisions and even Tom Hagen's loyalty is brought into question. Basically for a man whose priority is family we watch it basically disintegrate around him.
Then of course there is the story of Vito taking us from Sicily to America, to him being named Vito Corleone and his rise to power. It is a much simpler story but no less engrossing because in many ways we watch the character which Marlon Brando created in "The Godfather" form going from simple worker to a killer and a respected and feared member of the community. And with it taking us back to Vito's start it also ties in those characters from the first movie as we watch how Vito and Clemenza became associated as well as Tommasino back in Sicily. But we also watch how he establishes the family, not just the birth of his children, but also those like Clemenza who would become close.
Now like with "The Godfather" Francis Ford Coppola has crafted a movie which is all about depth, about what is being said between the lines. As such whilst we watch Michael deal with the betrayal it is how it affects him personally, screws with his own set of rules which make this fascinating. And again whilst there is action and drama, Coppola never focuses on these rather than what they mean to the family. Basically everything which was so good about "The Godfather" is served up again but more of it.
Not only does "The Godfather: Part II" see several returning characters and actors such as Robert Duvall as Tom Hagan, Talia Shire as Connie Corleone and John Cazale as Fredo Corleone, we also get new characters such as Michael V. Gazzo as Frankie Pentangeli and Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth. Plus we also get those characters we met the first time around which we now get in their younger days such as Bruno Kirby who plays Clemenza and Mario Cotone who plays Don Tommasino.
But of course this sequel is really about two men and two performances Al Pacino as Michael and Robert De Niro as Vito. Pacino does a wonderful job of building on the character of Michael, a man swallowed up by the business who tries to keep family first but finds business commanding his attention and being tested by what he sees as the family becoming fragmented. And then you have De Niro who is simply brilliant as Vito, building the character into what we got from Marlon Brando physically as well as morally as we watch him establish the family. Pacino and De Niro may not share the screen but it is these two who are pivotal to the movies success.
Now for me "The Godfather" is better than "The Godfather: Part II" and the only reason is that early on the two stories struggle to work together, making it a bit slow going. It is the only reason why I don't rate it as highly but again I can also understand why some people struggle, heck any movie over 3 hours long is going to test people and that is not to mention that much of the Vito storyline is in Italian with subtitles. But again "The Godfather: Part II" is not a movie for those who want simple entertainment, this is drama with depth, this is story telling not just action and excitement.
What this all boils down to is that "The Godfather: Part II" is another great movie and basically the equal of "The Godfather" with only one tiny issue stopping it from surpassing it. Everything about it is great, from the continuation of Michael's story to watching how Vito Corleone came to be a respected and feared man and whilst they never share the screen it is Al Pacino and Robert De Niro who make this such an absorbing movie.