The Irishman (2019): Painting Houses Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The_Irishman_poster.jpgNOTE: I’m never too concerned about spoilers but just be warned I’m talking about The Irishman, which will come out in November. If you want to be surprised maybe wait to read this…

The opening moments caused an almost immediate smile of recognition to come over my face. There it is. An intricate tracking shot taking us down the hallway to the tune of “In The Still of The Night.” We know this world well.

Martin Scorsese does too. Because it’s an instant tie to Goodfellas. In some sense, we are being brought back into that world. Except you might say that The Irishman picked up where the other film left off, filling up its own space, coming to terms with different themes. This is no repeat.

A day ago if badgered about the film I would have said it’s about a hitman named Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who had ties with the Buffalino crime family (Joe Pesci) and worked alongside Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The famed union teamster disappeared without a trace, only to become one of the most mythical unsolved cases of all time.

And yes, I had to take a few moments to get used to a de-aged Robert De Niro, although I think it might have been the blue “Irish” eyes, so I quickly accepted it and fell into the story. On a surface level, these are the initially apparent attributes. However, it’s a joy to acknowledge it’s so much more. Because all the greatest films offer something very unique unto themselves — and to their creators — in this case the world of organized crime.

We’re so used to having Scorsese and De Niro together; it’s staggering to believe their last collaboration was Casino (1995). Meanwhile, Joe Pesci came out of his near-decade of retirement to join with De Niro again and continue their own substantial screen partnership together. Some might be equally surprised to stretch their memories and realize Pacino and Scorsese have never worked together. Both have such deep ties to the American New Wave and the crime genre. The pedigree is well-deserved on all accounts.

But there’s something ranging even deeper and more elemental, resonating with us as an audience. This is not Sunday school truth but a type of hazy mythology with flawed titans going at it in a manner that feels almost bizarre. There are no pretenses here. If you are familiar with Scorsese’s work from Mean Streets to Goodfellas, this is an equally violent and profane work. And yet how is it we begin to care about characters so much that their relationships begin to carry weight? Especially over 3 and a half hours.

It is a monumental epic and that opening tracking shot I mentioned leads us to a white-haired, wheelchair-bound man who has seen so much over the course of his lifetime. Voiceover has a hallowed place in the picture akin to Goodfellas, but again, the man at the center of it all has such a different place in the story.

What’s more, The Irishman really is a full-bodied meditation on this lifestyle of organized crime. Yes, it’s placed in a historical context, but Sheeran is a man we can look at and analyze. He is a sort of case study to try and untangle the complexities of such an environment.

Steven Zaillian’s script lithely jumps all over a lifetime woven through the fabric of popular history, aided further by the music selections of Robbie Robertson (of The Band acclaim) and real-life touchstones ranging from the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy Assassination, Nixon, and Watergate.

Thelma Schoonmaker makes the action accessible and smooth with ample artistic flourishes to grapple with the societal tensions and cold, harsh realities. Still, the majority of the picture is all about relationships. Everything else converges on them.

Sheeran didn’t know it then, but the day he met Russell Bulfino (Pesci) on his meat trucking route, would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Because he’s a man with clout and connections. Everyone comes to him, he expects other people to pay deference to him, and he looks kindly on those who carry out his favors.

In his company, Sheeran has a formidable ally, and he starts rising up the ranks even running in the same circles of the acclaimed Jimmy Hoffa. Being “brothers” as it were, it’s as if Sheeran and Hoffa understand one another intuitively and in a cutthroat world, they have a deep-seated, inalienable trust in one another.  Who is the man Hoffa comes to have in his room to be his friend, confidant, and bodyguard if not Frank? You can’t help but get close to someone in that context.

Al Pacino just about steals the show blowing through the film with a phenomenally rich characterization of the famed teamster, because he willfully gives a tableau of charm, charisma, warmth, humor, mingled with a ruthless streak and utter obstinacy. His loyalists are many as are his enemies. It’s facile to be a mover and a shaker when you’re an immovable force of nature.

Even as Sheeran is busy, mainly on the road, his first wife and his kids (and then his second wife) are always present and yet somehow they never get much of a mention, rarely a line of dialogue, always in the periphery. This in itself is a statement about his family life.

One recalls The Godfather mentality. Where family is important but so is the family business and never the twain shall meet. Womenfolk and children are protected, shielded even, and the dichotomy is so severe it’s alarming.

In that film, the cafe moment is where Michael (a younger Pacino) makes a life-altering decision. For Frank, that mentality somehow comes easily for him. Michael was the war hero and thus stayed out of the family business for a time. Frank’s involvement in “painting houses,” as the euphemism goes, is just an obvious extension of the killing he undertook in Europe.

It’s curious how everyone mentions his military experience, the fact that he knows what it’s like, and how that somehow makes what he’s called to do second-nature. Again, it’s business. It’s following orders. If you do a good job, if you do the “right thing,” you get rewarded.

There are some many blow-ups and hits and what-have-yous, it wears on you to the point of desensitization, especially when you’re forced to laugh it off uneasily. This is very dangerous but again, it’s anti-Godfather, which was a film where these were the moments of true climax and meaning and import for the psychology of the characters. Where Michael evolves and takes over the territory. Where his older brother Sonny is killed and his other brother Fredo gets killed. There’s meaning in every one of them.

In the Irishman, it could care less. Everything of true importance seems to happen around conversations, in dialogue, between people. To a degree that is. Because dynamics are set up in such a way and the culture and the unyielding ways of men make it inevitable, opposing forces will rub up against one another.

The complicated realms of masculinity, pride, and respect make minor tiffs and bruised egos the basis of future gang wars and vendettas. Phone calls are testy and people are pulled aside to get straightened out before more serious action is taken. It’s a social hierarchy where go-betweens come to mediate everything.

As time goes on, we come to realize Sheeran is the wedge bewteen two of these unyielding forces, and he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Between his “Rabbi” Russell, as Hoffa calls him, and the man he’s been through the trenches with — the man he asks to present his lifetime achievement award to him. He’s deeply loyal and beholden to both.

Is this his hamartia — his fatal flaw — that will become his undoing? We never quite know if he was able to make peace with any of it. All we know is something has to give…But I will leave it at that.

The unsung surprise of the film is the load of humor it manages end to end. Everyone is funny. The exchanges get outrageous to fit the larger-than-life characters and situations. It’s the kind of stuff you couldn’t make up if you tried. But the jokes play as a fine counterpoint to the grim reality of these men and their lifestyles.

In the later stages of life, as he prepares himself for death, Sheeran meets with a priest, which prove to be some of the most enlightening moments in the film. When asked if he has remorse, he matter-of-factly admits, not really, but even his choice to seek absolution is his attempt at something.

Scorsese continues in the stripe of Silence with some deeply spiritual and philosophical intercessions in what might otherwise seem a temporal and antithetical affair.  The truth is you cannot come to terms with such a life — or any life — without grappling with the questions of the great unknown after death.

In another scene, Sheeran seeks out a casket and a resting place for his body muttering to himself just how final death is. That it’s just the end. It’s curious coming from a man who knocked off so many people, but somehow he’s just coming to terms with it himself. Perhaps it’s what old age does to one.

This is not meant to be any sort of hint or indication (we want more films), but if this were to be the last film this group of luminary talents ever made, I would be all but content. The film taps into content and themes that have been integral aspects of Martin Scorsese’s career since the beginning. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and even Harvey Keitel are all synonymous with the crime film — they share a common thread — a communal cinematic context and language.

My final thought is only this. The Irishman feels like Martin Scorsese’s Citizen Kane. I don’t mean it in the sense it’s his greatest film or the greatest film all time. Rather, in a thematic sense, they are kindred. Although Scorsese’s version includes crime and violence, the ends results are very much the same.

You have a man with a life crammed full of power and money and recognition, whatever, but at the end of the day, what did it get him? He clings to dog-eared photos of his kids whom he probably hasn’t seen in years.

When the priest tells him he’ll be back after Christmas, Sheeran looks up at him pitifully, acknowledging he’ll be around. He’s not going anywhere. He has no family. He has no one to care about him. All his buddies are gone, and he’s the last of them holding onto secrets that do him no good. It’s all meaningless.

It’s a striking final image. All I could think was, “Oh how the mighty have fallen.” Whether or not any of it was true or not (as the film seems to validate), what’s leftover is a paltry life. It’s a testament to everything we’ve witnessed thus far that we feel sorry for him.

4.5/5 Stars

Insomnia (2002)

Insomnia2002Poster“You and I share a secret. We know how easy it is to kill somebody.” – Robin Williams as Walter Finch

As I come to understand it, calling Christopher Nolan’s film a remake of the Norwegian thriller of the same name starring Stellan Skarsgaard is not exactly fair. As a director with a singular artistic vision of his own, it’s only fair to say his thriller set in the icy outskirts of an Alaskan fishing village is a re-imagining of the material.

His tale follows a jaded sage of an L.A. cop who comes with his partner on a reassignment, but Dormer (Al Pacino) is also running away from something — something that undoubtedly has major repercussions on not only his life but the case he is about to be met with.

Getting acclimated to Nightmute is no easy task. The town is quiet and the local police are nice enough, including Bill’s old buddy and the overly zealous but industrious rookie Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). To her, the estimable Will Dormer is a legend, the man you only read about in case files, not actually witness in person. She holds that kind of awe for him, but he just takes it in stride as he and his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) go about their business

Worst of all is the perpetual daylight. It’s something we take for granted, but in this story, the sun never truly sets. It’s always there. There’s no relief and, in a sense, it haunts Dormer. He struggles to sleep, he struggles when he is awake, because he hasn’t been able to sleep, and then the title Insomnia begins to make so much sense. It’s perpetuated to the extent that we begin to feel its effects on us as an audience. The story wears us down, making us into jaded individuals like Dormer (strikingly close to Dormir) and the fact that Al Pacino half-whispers his dialogue with his methodical delivery only aggravates the situation. Our vision is clouded just as much as his.

Set pieces are relatively few, but they are used to great effect. The ones that come to mind are a chase that ensues in the thick Alaskan fog, where the pursuer all too quickly becomes the helpless victim, the paranoia leading to a lapse of judgment. Another equally gripping chase sequence takes place over floating logs and that’s the first time we actually catch a glimpse of  Walter Finch (Robin Williams).

Otherwise, Insomnia is all about the mind games, as fatigue sets in and Dormer must reconcile all he knows and does. Maybe his lapse of judgment was really his innate desire, but the dividing lines are blurring.

Moral ambiguity becomes of great interest because in some ways our main players really are not all that different. Dormer has sidestepped protocol in order for his brand of justice can be enacted — the justice he thinks the people want. And he may be right, but there are consequences for any act and he quickly learns what that means for him.

By the end, we hardly know who is in the right and I think Dormer is as confused as us — or otherwise, he’s just too exhausted by this point to care either way. Robin Williams gives a surprisingly chilling and generally subdued performance. He is our villain in the general sense, but his villain looks suspiciously like a twisted, sick little man. Perhaps a far scarier reality.

Insomnia is the story of Will Dormer and Walter Finch getting twisted up in knots, and in both cases, each man loses a little more of their sanity. It’s in the film’s climactic moments that Ellie must make a choice, and Will implores her to make the right one. She’s the purest, most innocent character in this narrative, and if she falters then there is little hope. But Will succeeds in protecting the last shred of decency that still exists. A small victory, given his circumstances, but a victory nonetheless.

4/5 Stars

Review: The Godfather (1972)

godfather1That moment when the undertaker is first seen pleading for justice and the camera slowly pulls closer, it’s so slight we hardly even notice it, but we hear his bitter monologue about America and his disfigured daughter. A head appears in the frame and we get our first vision of the now iconic Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando as masterful as ever). It’s a brilliant little scene that introduces us to the character this whole narrative revolves around, and it really is an important point to enter his story, on the wedding day of his daughter.

But it’s not just this opening scene that’s of note. In the sprawling expanse of this film that goes from New York, to Hollywood, to Las Vegas, and even back to the old country in Sicily, there is so much to be taken in. A gruff studio head faces the wrath of Corleone when he gets a present in bed, and he learns never to cross the Godfather again. There’s the moment where Vito first utters the words, “Make him an offer he can’t refuse” and then it is mirrored by his son Michael later on.

godfather2You have the quip from the tubby Clemenza after they pull one of the many hits and then very business-like they leave the gun, but take the ever-important cannoli. There’s the turning point where Michael the war hero faces off against crooked cop McCluskey  (Sterling Hayden) and the opportunistic heroin dealer Solozzo because he wants revenge for the shot they took at his father. There’s the striking juxtaposition when Michael takes part in the dedication of his god-child knowing full well what is happening to the bosses all across town. Finally, we once more peer into the inner office now with Michael at the helm, and the door closes as a concerned Kay looks on at what her husband has become.

But not many people need to be told what their favorite scenes from The Godfather are, and they could probably rattle them off while giving color commentary. Aside from just being great scenes, however, these moments tie together a major theme that pervades this entire epic narrative. Because really, when you break it all down, with all the bloodshed, all the business, and everything else this film encompasses, it’s really about family. It becomes such an interesting paradigm, how Family can be sacred, held in such high regard, and yet violence is at times necessary and it’s also seen as a part of life. The two things are so interconnected and yet somehow they still can occupy two different spheres. Wives, children, etc. are left out of the fray. But when it comes down to business, men like Don Corleone will do what they have to do. After all, they are the men of the family and with that comes responsibility and a need to be stoic and strong. Never lose your temper, never show weakness, never say what you’re thinking, and always make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Vito Corleone played so famously by Marlon Brando is the epitome of The Godfather. A 40-year-old man was made to look decades older, he was given a distinctive mouth guard, and the rest is a giant simply delivering his lines with the nuanced — almost gasping delivery — that he was so well known for. He is in many ways the center point as the patriarch of this great family and the head of their business. Although his role does change as the circumstances change, he is a man of incredible influence with a great many friends, allies, as well as a few enemies. In other words, he’s the man with judges and politicians in his pocket, but it doesn’t come without a cost.

Sonny (James Caan) is the eldest son who is first in line to take over the role as head of the family. But although Sonny is a tough guy, his fiery temper is his downfall. He doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, and he lets his anger get the best of him. It doesn’t bode well in a business like his.

Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is another interesting addition to the family, because he’s not really one of them at all, but Vito took him off the street and he’s rather like a son, becoming a trusted member of Corleone’s inner circle. He helps carry out business and represents the Don when it comes to legal issues. He’s a good man to have around, but it also makes for an interesting dynamic with Sonny and even Michael.

Fredo (John Cazale) is the one brother who is lost in the shuffle, and he’s most certainly the weakest. All he’s good for is living it up and getting drunk so the family sends him to Las Vegas to stay out of trouble. He is unfit to be head of the family, because he simply has no guts and although his father cares about him, he would never trust him with the business.

Michagodfather3el (Al Pacino) comes back a war-hero and with a girlfriend in Kay (Dianne Keaton) who has no understanding of his culture or his people. In fact, the family wants to keep Michael as far from the fray of the family business as possible to protect him. The only possible role he might play is something unimportant so there’s no chance of him getting hurt. But while Don Vito is the focal point at first, The Godfather really evolves into the evolution of Michael from beginning to end. He starts out as an idealistic veteran so far removed from corruption. But the turn of events that deeply affect his family cause him to step into a different role, and he changes as a result. He is a far cry from the man we met during the wedding because now his almost subservient nature has been replaced by a cold-blooded dominance that is personified through his eyes. They’re like to icy black holes that can stare right through you, and they do.

The cinematography of Gordon Willis is obviously superb and generally popularized the golden tinge of The Godfather that gives it a classy and generally nostalgic touch of the 1940s. It makes locales like the open air wedding, Don Vito’s inner office, or even a cathedral all that more atmospheric. On his part, the score of Nino Rota manages to be hauntingly beautiful at one moment and even upbeat when necessary.

What more is there to say but that The Godfather is cinema at its purest and transcendent in its scope. There are few films that carry such magnitude in the vast annals of film history.

5/5 Stars

Donnie Brasco (1997)

220px-Donnie_brasco_ver2In the tradition of such films as Serpico, Goodfellas, and even The Departed, Donnie Brasco is another worthy addition to the gangster canon. You have a necessary mainstay in Al Pacino, playing the veteran and streetwise hit man Lefty. He’s been around and is claimed to have 26 “whacks” to his name. One fateful day he took Donnie under his wing and the two became real pals. Better than that they were family and Lefty vouched for Donnie, bringing him into his life and his business. It’s just that his business revolves being a member of one of the mob families.

The story is twofold, however, because Donnie Brasco’s real name is Joe Pisone, and he is an undercover agent for the FBI. However, in order to do his job he has to be gone for months on end. He checks in and has a tape recorder on his person, but for all intent and purposes, he is a member of the mob. They think he’s one of them which Pistone’s superiors are delighted about, but he also begins to relate to them and see himself pulled into their reality.

Long months away from his wife and kids do not help their marriage or his family life. Whenever he drops in their life, he’s cold and detached. His wife expects something more. She wants her husband back, but all he has for her is a fiery temper courtesy of the crowd he hangs out with now.

He follows their crowd from New York, down to Florida trying to get a cut of the land there, but after getting ousted by the cops, they must head dejectedly back to New York. Several times Joe almost gets his cover blown, but even more perturbing he stops checking in with his superiors. His wife is bearing the toll of his absence and tries to content herself with thoughts of him being dead. It’s easier to take.

Meanwhile, young hopeful Sonny (Michael Madsen), with the help of his cronies, knocks off his rival and things are looking up for the whole lot of them. Donnie knows however that there will come a point where he will be pulled out and that will be the end of it. He tries to give his new found friend and confidante Lefty a way out. He offers money to his pal, in a last-ditch effort to get the vet to leave this life behind. Instead, they follow through with the hit that they’re supposed to.

The irony of this story is that Joe Pisone gets a medal and a $500 check for his services to his country. He spent however many months and years in this high tension, high-stress environment and that’s what he gets. You can see him scoffing at it. His marriage is essentially shot to hell. He lost one of the best friends he had and that’s the end of it.

It’s great having Al Pacino in this film because he along with Robert De Niro will always embody the gangster to me. Except instead of playing the steely Michael Corleone, he’s the more world wearied type. Bruno Kirby sounded so much like Joe Pesci that it was almost uncanny to me. And it was a pleasure to see Johnny Depp in such a role since he is so often remembered for his quirkier roles. Here he truly seems to show his dramatic acting chops, and the camaraderie between him and Pacino is palpable in their scenes.

4/5 Stars

The Best Films of Al Pacino (1940-)

1. The Godfather Part II
2. The Godfather
3. Serpico
4. Dog Day Afternoon
5. Scarface
6. Glengarry Glen Ross
7. Heat
8. The Insider
9. Donnie Brasco
10. Insomnia
11. Carlito’s Way
12. Scent of a Woman
13. The Godfather Part III

It’s easy to fool the eye but it’s hard to fool the heart.

Serpico (1973)

acd89-serp2“Come on Frank. Let’s face it. Who can trust a cop who don’t take money?”

This is the state of affairs in the police department that green police academy grad Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) finds himself thrown into. At first, he is unaware of it all as he moves up the ranks as a young uniformed cop. In fact, he looks exactly like a post-war Michael Corleone at this point. His new role seems like an honorable life of camaraderie, duty, and public service. The corrupt is obvious and distinct from the good. Soon his brash, forthright style creates waves, but it soon becomes apparent that he is not one to care about hurting egos.

39dd2-serp2b3He moves on with his career working in plainclothes and getting a new apartment followed by a new dog. His appearance begins to change as well as he starts wearing a thick bushy beard and wearing hippy garb. It suits him fine in his work and outside he meets a pretty girl named Leslie Lane, but it’s not meant to be.

Serpico corroborates with colleague Bob Blair (Tony Roberts) trying to figure out how to bring attention to the bribes he has 60789-serp2b4been offered. But honest help is hard to find especially from someone who makes it stick. The higher ups care more about the reputation of the department over corruption, making progress difficult to come by. He continually bounces around from division to division and nobody seems to want him, or trust him for that matter. There are only a few honest Joes around and they are few and far between. Serpico gets transferred this time to the “upright” 7th division and begins seeing his next door neighbor named Laurie. Too soon he learns that one of his acquaintances is instrumental in the extortion that takes place department-wide. By now Frank is feared, hated, and despised because he will not take money under any circumstances. It takes its toll to be all alone in the force, and he lashes out at Laurie who leaves him for good. Now he truly is alone.

He becomes increasingly combative and paranoid as he gets ready to testify before the grand jury. Another case of bribes comes out and when Serpico and his upright partner try and report it nothing is done. As a last resort, Frank goes to The New York Times and they blow the cover right off. He soon receives an ominous death threat and gets shot when trying to bust someone.

He lays in the hospital recuperating asking for his guards to be relieved and watching the hate mail pile up. His badge is returned to him, but he rejects it in disgust, soon resigning from the police and waiting for a slow boat to Switzerland. That’s as far from New York as he could get.

It seems like there are so very many close-ups of Frank Serpico, and thus, over the course of the film we get the opportunity to truly study his face, or rather the face of Pacino as he embodies this character. His cold, aloof eyes, his facial hair that goes under several transformations, but that is only the outward appearance. It is his inner transformation that is most important because that is where his conscience lies, to guide him each and everyday on the beat.

My New York geography leaves something to be desired but that’s not the problem of native New Yorker Sidney Lumet. This is a story that takes place in New York, made for New York, and fit perfectly with its director. It seems like he knew the streets of the New York like the back of his hand, really creating an authentic atmosphere for this police biopic. It has a touch of The French Connection and yet it is a far more personal look at the life of Serpico himself.


This is also extraordinary because the story of Serpico was so fresh, still only a year or two old at most. Furthermore, the film has the same disillusioning and depressing tone of other dramas that came out of the 1970s. Back in the 1950s films like 12 Angry Men (Lumet’s debut) still had an air of idealism. That had mostly dissipated in the New Hollywood period, because the good guys aren’t black and white. Serpico is not the greatest guy around, but the one thing he has going for him is that he is not crooked and that’s saying a lot in the corrupt world he exists in. This is his story told with all the blemishes, personal troubles, and drama that went with it. The greatest service to him is that his story got told and hopefully truthfully enough.

4.5/5 Stars

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

fa822-glengarrymovieIt’s a film about a despicable world which promotes despicable people and despicable behavior. That’s the world of the real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross. Here are men who use any mode necessary to close deals as they say. They finagle, lie, cheat and even steal because those are just tricks of the trade. Those who get the good leads are able to close more deals and make more bank. Those who get the leftovers struggle to swing something out of nothing. Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) is one of those struggling after many years of success in the business or racket, whichever you prefer. He has a lovely personality, rather like a hissing snake trying to seduce you before going in for the kill. On the flip side, he can be a real jerk and he is unscrupulous as all get out.

But that’s enough on Shelley. The office is run by rigid John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) who just follows his orders and does not budge an inch. Then there is Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the top closer who is especially cynical but also a great admirer of Shelley’s skill. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) is a man with a big mouth and fiery temper not ready to sit by while other men outperform him. Finally, there’s George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) a man who humors Moss and is also fed up with his situation.

The wheels start turning when the Big Whigs send in a man named Blake (Alec Baldwin) to motivate the salesmen. It’s the survival of the fittest after all and they know what it takes to sell real estate so he encourages them to go and do likewise. His main tactics include berating, insults, and threats against their careers (They either get a car, a set of knives or the boot). Verbal attacks are sometimes more pernicious than physical beatings and that’s the truth here. They never relent even after Blake leaves because that’s the type of choice words that this environment fosters. One minute a salesman uses a polished voice to coerce a client then turns right around to bad mouth a colleague.

Moss on his part tries to pull Aaronow into his plan to steal the good leads from Williamson’s office. A desperate Levene tries to get better leads from an unrelenting Williamson as the veteran man struggles to convince clients and deal with his ill daughter. Roma, on his part, is at top form playing his client (Jonathan Pryce) and getting him to stay with a deal until it gets messed up. In the process we see all the pettiness, desperateness and corruption unleashed. The burglary goes down and it does not necessarily involve who you would think. Maybe it does. That’s not the point, though. The point is these men will do anything given the position they are in, but it’s not that simple because each one has their complexities. For instance, Levene and Roma are on very good terms and Moss and Aaronow seem very buddy, buddy. But ultimately it seems they look out for number one and that takes its toll on any human being.

The film is a biting drama brought to us through a fiery and sometimes brutal script from David Mamet, based on his play. Furthermore, the story is aided by an all-star cast of big names. Each one plays an equally despicable character. I knew Pacino, Spacey, Harris, and Arkin were up to the task because I had seen them before in tough or villainous roles. However, to his credit Jack Lemmon shows his versatility here since I absolutely despised him for once. That’s no easy task and he proved it to be possible. This film may be a black comedy, but there really should not be much to laugh at.

3.5/5 Stars

The Godfather Part II (1974)

Starring a cast including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro with director Francis Ford Coppola, the film opens with a young Vito Corleone coming to America. The story switches gears to 1958 in Nevada where Michael Corleone has successfully moved the family. However, after a close call Michael goes to Miami and then Cuba to attend to some business having to do with a man named Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). The story alternates off and on to Vito as a young man who begins making a life for himself. Upon returning to Michael, he is in a senate hearing where he narrowly avoids being indicted for his activities. From that point on Michael shows no mercy to anyone who is in his way and that includes his family. By the end of the film he is no longer the former idealistic Michael but a callous, cold mobster.

This film was a good installment of The Godfather, acting as both a sequel and prequel. However, at times the split story did seem unnecessary but it does show a contrast between Vito and Michael. The acting, the score, and the directing were all very good. I will let others decide which installment is superior but I will say that this film shows the darker side of Michael. Ironically, he worked so hard to be strong for his family but as he feared he ultimately lost them.

4.5/5 Stars

The Godfather (1972)

This film is often cited by many as one of the greatest films of all time. I certainly would not be one to argue because it has so many extraordinary aspects. You have Brando as the title character and a great cast of others who reveal the honor as well as the brutality of this lifestyle. However this film is not just about the violence. It is complex and fascinating in many other ways.

*May Contain Spoilers

Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall, with director Francis Ford Coppola, this is possibly one of the greatest films ever. It begins at a wedding in the 1940s as Don Vito Corrleone takes care of some “business” as head of the family. All too soon it becomes evident that the Don is loyal to his friends and ruthless to those in his way. His youngest son Michael returns from the war and wants nothing to do with the business but at the same time conflict blows up when the family does not back a heroin dealer. When the Don comes close to death Michael finally gets involved. After a series of events he becomes head of the family and soon proves how powerful he can be. Although this film has so much fan fare I did enjoy it a lot. Like I said before it is not just about the violence by any means. It is a period piece with an intriguing story and complex and interesting characters that truly reel you in.

5/5 Stars