Donnie Brasco (1997)
”Thirty years I'm busting my hump. What have I got?”
Focusing on the nuts-and-bolts world of an everyday mobster and the undercover cop with whom he forms a doomed camaraderie, Donnie Brasco achieves an accessible mix of entertainment and reality. Director Mike Newell was previously best-known for the romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), and he admirably switches gears without losing his knack for character-driven storytelling. Johnny Depp proves his versatility in the lead role of a family-man cop whose made-up mobster alter ego gains him acceptance in The Family; opposite him, Al Pacino crafts a fascinating, world-weary gangster, distinct from the mobsters he's played in the past. His Lefty is a far cry from the slick, bright Michael Corleone, but the character eventually comes to the similar realization that life among wise guys doesn't always translate into a life of wise decisions.
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
”I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.”
Both sequel and prequel to The Godfather (1972), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Part II (1974) delves further into the dark side of the capitalist American dream by paralleling the young Vito Corleone's 1910s rise with his son Michael's 1950s spiritual fall. To create a more contemplative view of the Corleones' American success story, Coppola cross-cut between Vito's story (in subtitled Italian) and Michael's, revealing how the honorable aim of protecting the family degenerates into an excuse for wielding lethal power, for the sake only of business. Images of Vito's parental concern and immigrant neighborhood dealings dissolve to Michael's familial disintegration and U.S. Senate subterfuge. Cinematographer Gordon Willis' warm sepia tones for the Vito sequences recall period photographs, contrasting sharply with the crass brightness and cold shadows of 1950s Lake Tahoe and Havana. With the memory of The Godfather present in Robert De Niro's uncanny evocation of Marlon Brando and in flashbacks to 1942, Coppola underlines how much The Godfather's potentially alluring myth of family unity begat horrific violence; the film becomes both a critique of responses to the first film that may have glorified its family-oriented violence and a more explicit and mournful allegory of American corporate violence and corruption across the 20th century. These aspects, together with the unique cross-cut narrative, give the movie a richer dimension and a wider scope than the first one's family drama, and it was hailed by most observers as the rare sequel that equaled, or even surpassed, the original. A box-office hit, it was nominated for ten Oscars and won six, including Best Picture, the Director prize denied Coppola in 1972, Supporting Actor for De Niro, Art Direction, and Score. Years of sequel plans finally produced The Godfather Part III in 1990; and parts I and II were later cut together in chronological order for TV as The Godfather Saga, eliminating this film's cross-cut structure. Often equated with Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather Part II remains one of the most artistically challenging popular films ever made.
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