Coppola’s The Godfather Part II
When it comes to gangster movies, you have Goodfellas, The Godfather, and The Godfather Part II. Scarface is just this side of fantasy, and focuses on the drug trade, not the mafia. Reservoir Dogs is a great film, but it’s about a heist, and Casino, while incredible, is always considered second fiddle to Goodfellas. Godfather 2 is one of Coppola’s best, and one of the greatest all time crime movies.
Al Pacino really comes into his own in this film as the new Don. In the first film, we watched him grow from the innocent son, the one who wasn’t a part of the business, into a capable and ruthless leader. Here we see him slowly go insane, paranoid. It has a lot in common with Pacino’s similar turn as the increasingly unstable Tony Montana in Scarface.
The difference between Montana and Michael Corleone is minute. Where Tony Montana’s self destruction, paranoia and distrust are all external, exemplified in a cocaine addiction and in immediate violence, Corleone’s problems are more internal. He simply grows to distrust and even hate everyone around him, pushing them away until he’s finally all alone.
In a sense, it’s much more tragic. Montana was put out of his misery quickly, setting off something of a Rube Goldberg chain of events that lead to his own immediate and colorful demise. Corleone is left to live with what he’s done to himself and those he’s loved.
Many will point out that Michael’s folly is clearly shown by contrast as the film flashes back to the young Vito Corleone coming to America and starting his own crime family. Vito had to scrimp and save, he had to fight and claw his way to the top of the food chain, starting, literally, from nothing. For Michael, the reins of the family empire were simply handed to him, and he approaches the job without the education needed to do what must be done while retaining family ties and friendships.
Michael is incredibly intelligent, he makes the business successful, but his ethics, his cold, calculating management style, eventually leads him to abandon everyone who ever loved him and everyone he ever loved. More and more, he pushes them away, sacrificing his own family for The Family. His father had never intended such a thing, and in the end, it is only Michael and his soldiers to keep him company.
The film is all about what really matters in life: Friends and family. We always find ourselves in situations where we get so obsessed with career ambitions, with making money and so on, that we forget that we get out of bed in the morning in the first place for the relationships between ourselves and the people we love. As such, Michael’s story is a parable we can all heed.
That is Coppola’s strength as a storyteller. Whether he’s dealing with street gangs, Vietnam soldiers, or the mafia, he always deals with real, human issues and conflicts. Every Coppola film can easily serve as a metaphor for something that’s happened to each and every one of us in the viewing audience.