Wednesday 9 February 2011

Revisiting Films... The Godfather Trilogy

I watched all three Godfather films in the past three days, which, to be honest, has been pretty awesome. Except for today, when I watched Part III and lost the will to live entirely. I mean, I started watching it trying to avoid thinking that it would be bad (even though I feared it would be), but I seriously couldn't even focus on it because it was just so awful, and, to my mind confusing (although that could just have been the lack of concentration.) It was made worse, of course, by watching the first two films in the preceding two days, which are both just so incredible and amazing that a lot of other films look bad in comparison. And a film trying to be their friend but just not matching up... looks very, very bad. But let's start from the very beginning (a very good place to start, according to Maria. In, I'm guessing, not Michael Corleone's favourite film), with:

The Godfather
The original, and in my mind, the best Godfather film. For a start, Marlon Brando is in it, and I am all about the Brando love (even in A Streetcar Named Desire, when he's all rapey and stuff... seriously attractive), although perhaps not in the physical sense in this film. In fact, the first time I watched it, I kept thinking 'but when is Marlon Brando going to turn up? I thought he was the Godfather!'... and he was! So that was pretty embarrassing. But anyway, apart from my worrying obsession with Marlon Brando, the crux of this film, I think, is Michael's (Al Pacino's) downfall into the seedy underworld of the mafia, from his rather more upstanding place as the returning army hero, lover of Kay (the always amazing Diane Keaton), and all round good guy.

So what changes? I think there are two basic turning points in Michael's thinking of the things his family does. The first comes with the assassination attempt on his father (for, in a move that makes me smile just a little bit, not wanting to have any part of the emerging drugs trade) since, while he has always been realistic and aware of what his family does, this is seemingly the first time it really becomes clear to him that his father is in constant, immediate danger; and that he must do something to protect him. This something leads to him having to go into hiding in Italy (it seems like a giant leap, I know, but I don't want to give too much away!) where something else really awful happens to him and his decision, and I also think his ability, to work within the mafia is cemented. When he goes back to America, there is really very little going on behind his eyes (something Pacino does so so well), and he seems to have lost himself, and his soul, in his new position.

There is, of course, far more to this film than Michael's descent into bad deeds, and a stellar supporting cast of both actors and characters, including Robert Duvall as the steady and reliable family lawyer, who also seems to be the only one who gets any work done, but is also eventually shoved out by Michael; and James Caan (always, to me, the dad from Elf!) as Sonny, Michael's hot-headed older brother, who really doesn't know when to stop. I, again, don't want to say too much, but let's just say things happen, people have to be eliminated, and then more things happen, and more people have to die. And it's completely freaking awesome.

And there's also this:
Honestly, it's just so brilliant, I insist you watch it right now! Drop anything you're doing, it's honestly not as important as watching The Godfather.

The Godfather Part II
A lot of people actually prefer Part II to the first Godfather film, and I can see why that could be the case, but for me it just lacks the amazing killer power of Marlon Brando (last mention of him, promise!) It does, however, follow Michael deeper down into the pit of his lack of feeling and cruelty; as well as portraying Vito Corleone's early life and rise to mafia activities in New York City (in this case played by an adorable Robert De Niro, although they wanted Brando [sorry!] to play the younger version of himself, but he refused because of money disputes. De Niro is pretty great here though).

I especially liked the Vito parts of this film, since they followed one story pretty solidly, whereas the parts with Michael seemed to be a bit unfocused at times (there's a whole senate investigation of the Corleone family, but this isn't even mentioned until it's actually happening). Also, De Niro is so adorable that I want to be his wife in early 20th century New York! I especially like the 9 year old Vito's experiences at Ellis Island, since it is a place that truly fascinates me- you could just sail over to America, and as long as you were healthy and relatively smart, you could stay. My attraction to this is perhaps a lot deeper than a mere interest in the way it happened, since my love for America knows no bounds, and it is a LOT harder to get into there now...

Anyway, so with Vito, you see his first experience of mafia activity, his first kill, and the way he sets himself up in business and gains respect almost immediately. Michael's story in this film is a little more complicated, and a lot more ruthless. By interspersing the two stories, you can see how much further Michael seems willing to go than his father to get things done, but then there is also the sense that things have become a lot more complex and frightening than they were in Vito's day. Essentially, Michael is searching for the people who shot through his bedroom, trying to kill him and anyone else who might be in the room. He believes that someone very close to them was involved, which eventually leads to this:

And it seems pretty clear from this point that poor Fredo's days are numbered...

One other interesting point from Part II is the fact that Kay tells Michael that she aborted his baby, because she couldn't bear the thought of her child being involved in the same activities as his father. This whole scenario allows Pacino to do more of his icy staring acting, but it also reminded me of the forced upon fate that I talked about being an issue for Tony in The Sopranos . I also just felt incredibly sorry for Kay throughout the entire film, having to watch the man she loved turn into a monster who just can't understand her anymore. Just, trust me, it's amazing.

And then there was this:

The Godfather Part III
What an error in judgment. The very first thing that struck me about Part III was how bad Al Pacino's voice had become, from all the smoking he had done in the past 20 years (this is something I notice with Johnny Depp too, his voice in Cry Baby is radically different to that in, say, Public Enemies), and I vowed never to smoke. This is about the only good thing that came out of this film. I just couldn't stand Michael's newfound goodness, because there was nothing to suggest why or how he had changed his ways. Sofia Coppola was just appalling, and Andy Garcia, who I normally don't have a problem with, got on my nerves more than a little bit.

I would love to tell you the story of The Godfather Part III, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I stopped paying attention about 50 minutes in to the film (yes, that's how bad). As far as I can tell, it had something to do with the Vatican, and Michael's son wanting to be an opera singer, and Kay finally finding out that he got married whilst in Italy in The Godfather, which was something of a relief for me (no one ever seemed to know about that! What was that all about?!) But the thing is, there was very little connection at all to the other films, the gangsters were all new, Tom was killed off in between films (mainly because Robert Duvall wanted more money, but still), and it was very hard to feel a connection to any of the characters, even to Michael (and I love Al Pacino almost as much as Brando!) It was just like a big sucking, gaping black hole; trying to undo all the brilliance of the first two films, and making you want to forget them as well, as part of your recovery.

Like Sex and the City 2 did for the other film and almost the entire series. The fucker.

I did like this bit, but only for The Sopranos reference (I know it's the other way round, but you know what I mean):
and that's about the only nice thing I can say about this film. To be honest, I would rather have watched 3 episodes of The Sopranos, since I would have felt a lot less like stabbing something into my eye, and a lot more content. If you absolutely have to watch Part III, then I'm warning you now, you'd better watch it before, or an extremely long time after the first two magnificent pieces of cinema. I'm going to leave the last word to a younger, better, Michael Corleone. Michael, should The Godfather III have ever been made?

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