Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Godfather

News flash: The second Godfather is dreadfully overrated. Often considered one of the best sequels in contemporary cinema, the second Godfather seems, I think, to lack a unifying narrative. Don't get me wrong, it's a truly compelling story, and no doubt the treatment was moving when pitched to studio executives (obviously helped on by the success of the first Godfather) but sequentially, Coppola clumsily weaves two stories that vary in proportion.

The first, about Vito Corleone's escape from Sicily and eventual rise in New York, is proportional and persuasively portrayed by a young De Niro—proportional in that the narrative thread offers a singular progression. The second, about Don Michael Corleone's struggle to hold together a burgeoning family empire, is unproportional and plods on without a coherent or reasonable focus—it’s the height of summer one moment, then, without warning, or standard datelines, it's new year in Havana, 1959, as the city irrupts into pre-revolutionary looting; strange indeed, especially considering the stunted linearity of character development up until this point: Where was Fredo the whole time? Why wasn't a hit placed on Roth sooner? Is Senator Geary a necessary character?

The second narrative also fails in establishing a goal. We're given an ad hoc explanation as to why the Corleone family is called to testify at what, I can only guess, are Senate Hearings on criminal syndicates—although the viewer quickly understands that the Corleone family is public enemy number one. And even then, little is made of how easily Don Michael Corleone evades indictment: a reasoning that can’t even make sense of it self manifests ex nihilo.

The film seems to run out of breath far from the finish, dragging its languid corpse to the end, finally; only to appear confused and confusing. The narrative of Vito Corleone sets the table for, and amplifies the significance of, the first Godfather—despite this being done anachronistically; it’s a worthy compliment nonetheless. Michael Corleone's narrative searches for meaning and comes up wanting.

It may just be a matter of expectations and payoffs. Having not actually seen this movie, and hearing its vaunted reputation, a pristine mythology was neatly constructed around it. I had not, in any way, come across a counter assessment—or even a minority report. I expected more from this movie than it was able to deliver. It’s troubling that I wasn’t able to appreciate the film for what it was and not for what I'd expected it to be. In the final analysis, it may have been my loss for not watching it sooner.

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