It's been a while since I sat through any 3 hour long, blood soaked crime epics. Maybe I am getting soft but some of the stuff on offer isn't exactly easy to stomach, be it the unsavoury moments of Once Upon a Time in America, or some of the acting in The Godfather Part III... For this particular session I dug out the period pieces, so no Frank White or Tony Montana this time around. But perhaps a Christopher Walken season will be on the cards.
As for the main event, Coppola's opener is pretty incredible. The Godfather is often suggested as being over rated, but after all this time looking at it with fresh eyes... I can't agree. Even considering it from the point of view that it's simply a series of dramatic set pieces with a tense build ups and a violent pay offs, the atmosphere and foreboding created is pretty impeccable. The restaurant, the toll booth, the final shift in power - it's all great stuff. That concluding baptism scene shows how visually telling a story should be done. It all plays out perfectly and as that door closes on the final moment, it feels nothing less than satisfying. As for the players, Brando churns out sage but chilling advise, Pacino goes from war hero to calculating killer, and the supporting cast are all good too - I really like James Caan and Robert Duvall here.
But this has all been said before, time for the real questions. Is Part II the better movie? I have to say no. It's still great for sure, but without the core arc and with that second narrative it's unwieldy, meandering and doesn't have the same amount of punch. But the segments still make a fine movie. Micheal's domestic strife offers the best scenes as he becomes more openly cruel and his wife learns that this is a one way streak. But on the other hand... is Part III a good film? Once more I have to say no. I really went into this with an open mind after hearing the bad press and had put watching it off for a long time, maybe it would be an unsung gem. But nothing works. There's a silly plot about the Vatican, and it's full of scenes where Pacino goes to lengthy board room meetings, does a lot of mumbling about trying to go straight but never really comes across as remorseful. It's barely the same character. I can't take it seriously and the rehashed scenes and questionable supporting cast don't help. Another street parade, another execution, another weird scene about cousin's romancing... what happened? There's also too much unintentional comedy, the scene where an enemy of the family is given poisoned cakes comes across as ridiculous. Much has been said about these films being boring, but this is the only one that is tedious.
Elsewhere I looked into the nearest rival for the Corleone saga, at least in terms of scope and production value - Sergio Leone's adaption of The Hoods. I don't think I've been this conflicted about a film in a long time. Once Upon a Time in America has an amazing score, the casting for the different ages works really well, the visuals are intricate and the childhood sections are poignant with the high point being the backlash for their antics and the "Noodles, I slipped" moment. It's heartbreaking. But what's up with the big rape scene? The longer it goes on the more it derails the movie. And it goes on forever. Was all the stuff about street gangs and wasted youth leading up to his point? The character writing certainly fails to justify it. I figured under the surface there might be a romantic in Noodles, but the diamond in the rough is smashed by the entrance of what is just a pure sociopath. It's impossible to care when he looks sentimental for the good old days after that point, I guess all the poetry didn't sink in after all.
I get that these impoverished urchins don't have the best moral fiber and it's established they have less than ideal respect for women, but surely a little growth is required in this kind of story? Maybe I am being unfair but the idea that the innocent kids grew up to be good and the brats became crooked to the bone just feels weak. Is this intended to be a deconstruction of the romantic mobster image? They should have done it in a less skin crawling fashion. Maybe it's the way this was all edited, after all even this 229 minute version is still cut down. But Deborah doesn't seem to have real reasons to stick around these guys and even Max's "don't call me crazy" thing comes out of nowhere. It's hardly Back to the Future II but still seems kind of random. I probably dwell on this aspect too much, and it would be hypocritical to condemn certain scenes where mob violence and death are used so artfully, but those elements are appropriate for what the writing provides as motivation and because of the setting itself. I want to like this more so much more, and I am being very negative about what is far from being a poor film, but it goes to such lengths to make everything feel cold and vicious. It's beautiful, melancholy and well made but the heart is black under all the trappings of wistful nostalgia.
On a more upbeat note however, is this really Sean Connery's worst ever accent? That remains to be seen (looking at you Red October). But as for a more stylised look at the prohibition era, The Untouchables is a lot of fun. Well for a Brian De Palma movie at least. This is anything but light hearted and of course has the "touchable" elevator revenge scene amongst other hard hitting moments. Maybe it's just the quirky Morricone theme or the central characters feeling a bit like they've come out of a comic book. Perhaps it's just that you know they are going to beat the odds despite casualties along the way, they will bring down Al Capone.
It's one of the bigger moments for Kevin Costner's early career before other highlights such as JFK and ... Robin Hood (just me?) and though he does a good job as the straight arrow I am not his biggest fan. De Niro as the villain feels a bit like a caricature despite some good speeches, and the same can be said of Ness's sidekicks Malone and Wallace as the opposing ends of the law enforcement spectrum; pulling guns versus by-the-book. But this fits the general tone. It's especially true of Billy Drago as Nitti the killer, who seems to be the living archetype of a hitman; a sinister, impossibly thin figure who has white gloves to contradict how dirty his hands are. Andy Garcia's Agent Stone is passable but never gets anything interesting to do and is a weak link amongst so many personalities. When talking about the film I probably don't have to mention the Odessa Steps sequence but there are a lot of other great moments particularly Capone's big dinner and the the fateful break in at Malone's house standing out. Maybe it's apt to round all this off by being able to root for the good guys.