Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Skuriels Countdown: #15 (tie)

Francis Ford Coppola, 1974
[10 votes]

“Regarded by many (including me), as the greatest sequel ever, The Godfather Part II serves both as a seamless continuation and a historical prologue to the Corleone family saga, rise to power and monumental fall from grace.   Since its debut in 1974, film buffs have been duking it out over The Godfather and The Godfather Part II as to which is the greater film.   While I have a particular warm spot for The Godfather, both films are masterful.   As far as acting and story goes, The Godfather Part II is equally as riveting and compelling enough to stand on its own.    Director/Screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola and screenwriter Mario Puzo juxtapose parallel narratives of the life of young Vito Corleone (from his orphaned childhood as Vito Andolini in Corleone, Italy to his coming-of-age on the mean streets of New York's Little Italy) with the life of his youngest son Michael (college-educated, war hero who was pre-destined for a legitimate career as a Senator or Congressman).  Instead, against his father's most fervent wish, Michael takes over as the Don, and in the process, discards his father's family-centric values and loyalties, with devasting outcomes. 

“Memorable scenes and dialogue abound (‘You broke my heart, Fredo....you broke my heart,’ ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’), but my favorite moment remains the end scene.   In a truly inspired flashback, Vito Corleone's five adult children are gathered together at the dinner table for his surprise birthday celebration on December 7, 1941.  The impact of what transpires in both movies is fully realized when Sonny (note-perfect James Caan) brings young Carlo to dinner, fatefully introducing him to sister Connie.   While Sonny rants over the news of the surprise Pearl Harbor bombing on ‘Pop's birthday, the nerve of them Japs’, Michael challenges Sonny about allegiance to family versus country and announces that he has quit college to enlist in the war.  As Sonny rages, Tom Hagen lectures,  and Fredo (the incomparable John Cazale in the movie's most pivotal role), well....weak, vulnerable Fredo, offers his handshake and congratulations to the younger brother who he'll ultimately betray and who'll have him killed.    This one scene brilliantly captures the beginning cracks in the Corleone family foundation, highlighting Sonny's hot-headedness and Michael's singular, paranoid mindset as they foreshadow the ruination of Vito Corleone's master plan and most tragically, his family.

“It's impossible to top Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of Vito Corleone, but Robert De Niro takes a quiet, thoughful approach and thoroughly inhabits young Vito, speaking almost entirely in Sicilian Italian.  DeNiro went on to win a most deserving Best Actor Oscar, cementing his place in Oscar history with Marlon Brando as the only two actors to have won Oscars for playing the same character.  As with The Godfather, the acting performances by Pacino, De Niro and the supporting cast are first-rate, including a particularly inspired turn by Pacino's acting mentor, Lee Strasberg.   The cinematic sprawl is captivating (1920's Italy to Ellis Island to New York's Little Italy to 1950's Vegas to Lake Tahoe to Miami to Batista-era Cuba) and it's no surprise that The Godfather Part II was the first sequel to win Best Picture.    I'm still befuddled by Vincent Canby's contrarian take on this film. 

“Eminently quotable, Shakespearean in scope, The Godfather Part II is entirely addicting in all 3+ glorious hours running time.  It is the epitome of greatness.” ~ Jenny Sekwa

No comments:

Post a Comment