Let’s get this out of the way right now: The Godfather was a supernaturally good movie. The story, the characters, the performances, the settings, the cinematography, the editing, the music
— everything came together perfectly, as if Francis Ford Coppola made a deal with the devil.
Part II? Lots of that was great, too. Numerous memorable moments. “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” De Niro as the young Vito — incredible. But does it add up to much more than the sum of its parts like the original? No. Most of its flaws are with the plot, which is at times confusing and inconsistent. For instance, I have never been able to find anyone able to answer these questions (warning: spoilers follow):
- It was Hyman Roth who was behind the assassination attempt in Lake Tahoe. Why did he want to kill Michael, if they were in the middle of creating the big Cuba deal?
- What made Michael so certain it was Roth? Was it just Michael’s intuition when he visited him in Miami?
- When Fredo confesses to Michael his complicity with Johnny Ola, he swears he didn’t know it was going to be a hit. This seems sincere, and is consistent with what we know of Fredo’s character; plus it makes sense for Johnny Ola to conceal the full extent of his plan from someone so close to Michael. So Fredo didn’t know it was going to be a hit. But then who killed the gunmen when the hit failed? It had to be someone inside the compound, and it’s made pretty clear that Fredo is the sole traitor, but without knowing exactly what was going to happen, there’s no way he could’ve located and executed the gunmen in that short a time.
- Hyman Roth set up Frank Pentangeli to think Michael wanted him dead, so that Frank would turn against him, right? If so, how much of that assassination attempt was staged? Was the cop who interrupts it not really a cop (or was he a cop who was tipped off by Roth)? What about the shootout in the street? If it was Roth’s intention to scare Pentangeli, it looked to me like a bad plan — a hundred different things could have gone wrong (especially considering the Lake Tahoe fiasco), and Pentangeli could have wound up actually dead.
But the biggest flaw of all was failing to bring back actor Richard Castellano to reprise his role as Clemenza. (Reportedly he demanded too much money.) Clemenza’s story was transfered to a brand-new character, Frank Pentangeli. In that story, Pentangeli, an old trusted lieutenant of the Corleone family, is fooled into believing the Corleones have betrayed him, and he betrays the Corleones in turn.
We’re told of Pentangeli’s past loyalty, but in the original film — and in the flashback sequences of Part II — we’re shown Clemenza’s. The audience has no emotional investment in Pentangeli and so the storyline does not pack the wallop it would if it were Clemenza testifying before a Senate committee. And severing ties with Clemenza, with whom Michael has a deep personal connection, would have fit much better with the overall story of Michael sacrificing his actual family for the sake of a misguided abstraction of Family.
Just wait. In a few more years someone will digitize Richard Castellano and put him into a fan-edit of The Godfather Part II. I’d pay to see that.