I’ve already done the bit about not liking the Godfather, but while I’d never seen that movie on the big screen before, I’m not entirely sure I stayed awake through this one when I tried to watch it on TV. That said, while this movie is even longer, clocking in at a whopping 3 hours and 20 minutes, I think I like it better than the first one. It is, essentially, two movies: Al Pacino’s struggle to carry on his father’s business after the events of the first movie, and the story of his father as a young man who comes to America and rises to the top of the gangster world.
The plotting is trickier but feels easier to follow: Michael Corleone (Pacino) is nearly assassinated in his Nevada home after disciplining his cousin Frankie (Michael V. Gazzo) who is running the east coast business. He goes to Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (acting impresario Lee Strasberg) saying he thinks Frankie did it. But Michael’s not an idiot and neither is Frankie, so Michael tells Frankie that Hyman did it, and he’s setting up the Florida-based don (what’s a Jewish don?). But Hyman’s one step ahead of him and sends mooks to kill Frankie, and these mooks manage to not kill him and say they’re from Michael.
Frankie’s not dumb but he’s not that smart either so he buys this and ends up turning state’s evidence on Michael. So Michael has to deal with the Feds, the Jewish gangsters, rival Italian gangs, Nevada politicians, and his increasingly shrewish wife, Kay (Diane Keaton).
It’s suspenseful even as it becomes harder to root for Michael, as the business changes him more and more into the thing he needs to be to run it. Kay should be sympathetic but is not, even as Michael treats her worse and worse. You end up rooting for Vito, and that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but he’s an underdog through most of the movie and just trying to make a better life for his family—which means killing people, I guess.
Talia Shire has a much smaller role but once again shines as the formerly trashy sister who gains a little respect for the family. Duvall, as longtime consigliere Tom, is outstanding and subtle. The acting is pretty much terrific all around, even in the smaller roles like Gazzo’s and G.D. Spradlin (who plays a racist senator who thinks he’s going to strongarm the mob). But obviously the movie is centered around Pacino and De Niro.
De Niro is probably at his best here and his charm still eludes me. I mean, I don’t hate him or anything, I just don’t think he stood out. He is, at least not the parody of himself he has become. Pacino—who is probably even more of a parody of himself these days—is great. Menacing, restrained, very seldom actually violent himself so that when he is violent, it’s very shocking. He’s also glib and smug and criminal…a smooth criminal, I guess, you might call him.
Anyway, I found it more enjoyable than the first one, in these recent viewings but just like its predecessor, I’m not sure I think they’re the greatest achievements in cinematic history. That strikes me as some Boomer revisionist nonsense, frankly. Although they’re better than The Shawshank Redemption probably? I dunno: My greatest flicks list would be from decades earlier than either.