“I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.”
I’m one of the few people that prefers the Godfather Part II over Part I. It wasn’t always this way. I guess it’s because I didn’t catch on to all the subtle implications that the film made when I was younger. Part I & II of the Godfather can be compared to the novels of Jose Rizal, “Noli me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” On the one hand, ‘Noli’ is, for the most part, a bright and idealistic novel. ‘El Fili’ on the other, is very dark and political. Take away the violence and bloodshed in Part I, and one might be able to notice the idealistic aspirations of the characters. The primary concern of Michael is the safety and protection of his family, as well as the legitimization of the Corleone Empire. Fast-forward seven years to Part II, and we come to find that the Corleones haven’t quite made it there. The sequel is undoubtedly more dark, gritty, unforgiving, and merciless than the first. In many ways, it’s more exciting and controversial. However, one needs a good background of Part I in order to fully appreciate Part II.
Perhaps, the reason why most people still prefer Part I over II is that the former is more concise and concentrated, whereas the latter has numerous sub-plots intermixing with the main storyline. Then there are the intermittent flashbacks. A lot definitely goes on during the film, but in my opinion, these sub-plots helped emphasize the increasing complications that Michael faces as Don. The prowess of Pacino’s acting convinces the audience of Michael’s sincerity – he’s a man hell-bent on keeping his family together by being strong for all of them. He knows that the foundation of his family rests on his shoulders – it always has. He doesn’t view this fact self-righteously. Rather, it is a responsibility of the utmost significance and importance passed on to him by his father, and he shall honor it to his grave.
One of the best things about Part II is that it flows a lot like a Western. The ways of the Old West are slowly, but surely dying, and every outlaw has to deal with the changes. We get a hint of this in Part I, when Tom Hagen tells Don Vito, “This is almost 1946. Nobody wants bloodshed anymore.” Frankie Pentangeli is like a stubborn, aging cowboy – firmly grounded in his roots and resistant to change. He becomes enraged when Michael denies his request to go after the Rosato brothers. He’s hit hard with the Age of Industrialization, and realizes that there are new rules to follow. It’s either he gets in line, or gets eliminated. Although Michael has always been one to adapt to any situation, the dawn of the new era also takes its toll on him as well. With the Senate breathing down his neck, and traitors trying to beat him to the ‘Gold Rush’ in Havana, suddenly, the legitimization of his empire becomes all the more imperative. However, he does have to rely on traditional methods to come out on top. The scene wherein Michael meets with his caporegimes and soldiers is an unforgettable one: He looks at Tom dead in the eye and says, “If anything in this life is certain – if history has taught us anything – it’s that you can kill anyone.”
The only way for Michael to secure the pinnacle of the Corleone family’s power and prestige is to once again deal a hand of cold-hearted detachment, even to his loved ones. A threat to the family, even from the inside, is still a threat to the family, and must be dealt with accordingly. Even though Michael is a witness to the ushering in of a new age, the blood of a decisive, uncompromising, and relentless outlaw still runs through his veins.
Old habits die hard, but some never die at all.