Monday, September 8, 2008
Back with the final Godfather Monday, and I'm proud to announce that I have now seen the entire trilogy, which I believe officially makes me the last person on Earth to do so. Hurrah.
And I gotta say, it seemed to me that this one has a bad reputation, but I thought it was actually pretty okay. If nothing else, it's a solid crime movie. Yes, it was the worst of the three, but still contains some strong performances and some quality filmmaking. In fact, I would say that Michael's character comes off as more nuanced than in the previous films. Sure, Pacino has a few "hu-ah!" kinda moments, but he also is allowed to show more emotion, actually expressing guilt over his past actions, and yearning for redemption. Michael seemed a little one-note sometimes in the first two movies, here I think his misguided but genuine attempt at self-improvement makes his character more interesting.
The other thing I appreciated is that the story was more along the lines of the original film, with constant forward motion, suspense, action. There are a lot of memorable set-pieces, and the movie seems to keep building and building. Like I said in my last post, part 2 is the best all-around, but I thought it would have been an even better movie if it was done in this style.
I think the reason for this one's reputation isn't that it's a bad movie, but that it's flaws are way more evident than in the other films. Obviously, there's Sofia Coppola's much maligned performance, we don't even need to go there. Worse is the borderline incomprehensible plot that ties into some weird Catholic church conspiracy theory that would probably have seemed pretty ludicrous if I had managed to follow it at all. Maybe I didn't pay close enough attention, but it struck me that you would need to take notes if you wanted to decipher this plot.
I would also guess that people don't dig the ending of this one. Not the big climactic shootout, which was a little melodramatic, but the final scene. Coppola shows a montage of the women Michael has loved and lost in his life, and then, rather audaciously, cuts to years ahead, where Michael is an old man. After sitting a few moments, he slumps over in his chair and dies. The end. No fireworks, he's just an old man, all alone, who keels over in his chair. I have to say, I loved this ending, and in it's own weird way it was the perfect way to warp up the trilogy. You're anticipating the whole time that Michael might die in this one, but you're expecting something a lot more dramatic than this. Instead, after this complex and over-the-top story, we are shown a very honest moment.
On a whole, I think this worked better as a trilogy than it did as individual films. Parts 1 and 3 offered a more satisfying, entertaining crime fiction type of film, while part 2 provided a more nuanced story and history. The cumulative effect here is pretty good, you get your ice cream and you get your vegetables, but no one movie was a homerun for me. Which is why, ultimately (and here's where I'm going to sound like an insufferable contrarian) if we're talking all-time great mob movies, I would argue that Goodfellas and Once Upon a Time in America are the superior films. Both tell powerful, nuanced stories while also knowing how to deliver the entertainment that you're looking for in this genre. And what I mean is, they know how to do these things at the same time, instead of being more compartmentalized like they are here.
In fact, the superficial similarities between The Godfather Part 2 and Once Upon a Time in America are pretty numerous. They are both epic-lengthed mob flicks starring Robert De Niro, that jump back in forth through time, in part telling the story of how a mob boss comes into power in early 1900's New York. This probably warrants closer examination, but I'm not the guy to do it.
Anyways, I liked these movies.