Monday, March 26, 2012
#2 THE GODFATHER (1972)
Plot summary (with spoilers): In 1945, the Corleone family gathers together for the wedding of Corleone daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzi. Even during the reception, Don Vito Corleone hears requests from various hangers-on who come to bow and scrape and kiss the ring. One such requestee is the famous singer Johnny Sinatra Fontane, who wants to be cast in the big movie studio's latest blockbuster. Don Corleone grants this request by promising to make the studio head Jack Woltz an offer he can't refuse, which is an example of hilarious mob humor through understatement.
Other family members include hothead eldest son Sonny Corleone, pathetic fiveheaded wimpy middle son Fredo Corleone, and quiet, youngest son Michael Corleone, the white sheep of the Corleone family who wants nothing to do with the business. He has a girlfriend named Kay who has a line or two.
Don Vito sends his consigliere Tom Hagen to Hollywood to talk to Jack Woltz and ask him for a favor and to cast Fontane in his movie. Woltz calls him a wop mick dirtbag and sends him packing.
Really awesome scene #1: Jack Woltz in bed. The blood. The horse head.
Virgil Sollozzo of the Famous Amos Tattaglia family comes to Don Vito asking for a favor. He wants Don Vito to use his political connections to help Sollozzo sell heroin. Don Vito mush mouths that he's fine with gambling and prostitution and the occasional beheading of a race horse, but he draws the line at drugs. Sollozzo accepts this answer with grace and equanimity and then promptly leaves, never to be heard from again.
Just kidding, he tries to assassinate Don Vito, shooting him several times in the back while Don Vito was casually walking down the street.
But Don Vito survives. The family gather at the hospital and plan their next move. Sonny manages to get Tattaglia's son Bruno killed in retaliation.
Really awesome scene #2: Michael visits his dad at the hospital and learns the police protection has been sent away. He gets a nurse to help him wheel his dad into another room. He gets another hospital employee to stand outside the hospital and pretend he has a weapon. He confronts the police chief and manages to stall any assassination attempt until Sonny and reinforcements arrive.
Tom and Sonny send Fredo off to Las Vegas under the protection of Jew-y mob associate Moe Green, and they try to get Michael to leave as well. But Michael sees an opportunity to protect his family. He tells Sonny and Tom to set up a meeting with Sollozzo and the police chief at a neutral place, where he'll assassinate them both. Sonny and Tom laugh in his silly face, and tell him the other Five Families will be pissed if they kill a cop, and besides, Michael doesn't have it in him, anyway.
Really awesome scene #3: Michael has it in him. A gun is planted in the restroom. Michael breaks bread with his enemies, makes small talk, agrees to their compromises, excuses himself, grabs the gun, holds his face, catches his breath, walks out, shoots them dead, and exits.
He flees to Sicily, where he meets and falls in love with and marries Apollonia Vitelli, and may their marriage be forever a long and fruitful one whoops she's dead.
Carlo beats the shit out of Connie after a fight, and Sonny leaves the compound to go teach Carlo a lesson he can't refuse or whatever the metaphor.
Really awesome scene #4: Sonny's gunned down.
Don Corleone is on the mend. He meets with the Five Families and agrees to help them smuggle drugs and swears that he won't try to avenge Sonny's death. In exchange, Michael is allowed to return home.
After a year, Michael runs into Kay again by chance. She learns he's acting-Don now, as Vito is in poor health and Fredo is still douching it up in Vegas. Kay asks about Michael's earlier disdain for the Family Business, but Michael has a new attitude and now feels his father acts like any powerful man. He tells Kay he'll be legit in five years. Don Vito and Michael play the long game, phasing out Hagen as consiglierie and pretending to acquiesce to the other Family's demands. Michael tries to buy out Moe Green's casinos in Vegas and Moe derides him as a fading power and Fredo takes his side. Michael angrily warns Fredo to never side against the family. I'm sure Fredo's learned his lesson and will never ever do that again. Don Vito warns Michael that after he dies, the Five Families will try to assassinate Michael and that whoever in Michael's camp who tries to set up a meeting between him and Trattaglia will be a traitor.
Really awesome scene #5: Don Vito and grandson Andy Garcia play in the tomato garden and big puffy Don Vito marble-mouths his last words and gurgles and lurches and falls to the ground dead.
Fish is the Judas, attempting to set up a meeting after Don Vito's funeral.
Really awesome scene #6: Michael is at Connie and Carlo's son's baptism, being made the child's Godfather. The heads of the Five Families and Moe Green and Fish are dead dead dead.
Michael confronts Carlo. He says he knows that Trattaglia paid him to start a fight with Connie so that Sonny would run off and get himself killed. Carlo admits this and is promptly garrotted.
Really awesome scene #7: Connie confronts Michael, screaming at him for killing Carlo. She's dragged away. Kay asks Michael if it's true. Michael says don't ask about the soon-to-be-legit-no-really-any-day-now business. Kay says no for realsies, did you do it? Michael says no, for realsies. Kay believes this. She leaves the room, as some men come in with some news and business for Don Michael Corleone, who sits at the Godfather's chair, as the door closes in Kay's worried face.
Review: There are a tiny handful of movies in which the sequel is better than the original. Empire Strikes Back (and no, Kevin Smith, the fact that it's a trilogy does not negate this). Aliens. The Dark Knight. Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Toy Story 2 and then even better Toy Story 3. Spiderman 2. The third and best Harry Potter movie. Maybe a few more. But no, Godfather II does not belong on that list. It's a great film, to be sure, a wonderful cinematic treat, but Godfather is better, cleaner, more efficient and has more memorably amazing scenes. It occurred to me during this second viewing that Michael's descent into a life of crime isn't really motivated by a lust for power of money, but by a desire to simply protect himself and his family. He kills the men in the restaurant to stop them from killing his dad. He teams up with Vito and Hagen to consolidate power after his wife and brother are killed to keep it from happening to more people he loves. He very much sees himself as the good guy, and for much of this story, he is, relatively speaking of course. It also really informs the sequel and just how deep Fredo's betrayal cuts into Michael's soul; it's his life goal to protect the family and then the family itself becomes the threat? Unforgivable. The two stories work in concert so well, it's one of the only sequels that is not only great, but doesn't seem superfluous. Marlon Brando does great work here, his general weirdness is reigned in and used to good effect, and Al Pacino is fantastic. The scene in the restaurant is so perfect; dripping with tension and anticipation. You can see the panic bubbling up behind Michael's eyes, barely restrained and then the cathartic way be pulls the trigger. You can see how this one moment breaks him forever. It's incredible. What happened, Mr. HOOAH? Seriously.
For that matter, what happened to Coppolla? I guess three amazing movies was all he had in him. I wish he had realized that himself.
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, the greatest film ever in the history of cinema and space and time itself. The "Citizen Kane" of movies, you might say. I'm sure it's not been overhyped.