question about a plot hole in the movie Godfather II
August 2, 2009 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Please explain to me, a plot hole in the movie 'Godfather II'

There's something about the movie Godfather II that bugs me, and maybe someone can explain it (spoilers ahead, and pardon me if I get a detail or two mixed up, I last watched it a few months ago...):

Near the start of the movie, there is an assassination attempt on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). It begins with him being in the bedroom with his wife, noting that the curtains are inexplicably open, after which machine gun fire erupts. Once the shooting dies down, Michael demands his trusted bodyguard Rocco that the assassins be captured alive. Rocco protests that this would be difficult, but Michael insists they be captured alive.

Michael then confides in Tom Haigen, his half-brother, that 'unless I'm very wrong, those men [the assassins] are already dead', because, he concludes, the assassins had help from the inside. Sure enough, a short time later, the bodies of the assassins are produced.

This issue - who is the traitor? drives Michael through the rest of the film.

So - who was the traitor? That is, who helped set up the assassination, even to the point of making sure the curtains of the bedroom were open?

1. Was it Fredo, Michael's brother? Fredo is later exposed as having helped Hyman Roth's group behind Michael's back and is eventually killed for it. But Fredo, if he helped the actual assassination, did so apparently unwittingly. That is, he did not recognize any help he gave Roth, would lead to an actual attempt on Michael's life (during the phone call in the middle of the night with Roth's representative, Fredo points out 'you lied to me before'). He is also characterized as being "weak" and "stupid", too clued-out for the guile, duplicity and underhandedness needed to betray his own brother.

2. Was it Rocco and the other bodyguards? Michael tells Tom this, saying that 'they're all businessmen' in response to Tom pointing out his troops are all trusted and loyal - Michael meaning they'd be willing to sell him out if the price was right.

So then how does this fit into things? Was Rocco and his subordinates in on it? Is this why, at the end of the film, when Michael orders the assassination on Roth, he gently but firmly insists Rocco not tell him it's impossible - an allusion perhaps to the start of the film, when Rocco demurred that it would be "difficult" to take the assassins alive? Is this a coded message to Rocco, telling him 'I know you had to be in on the attempt on my life, so you assassinate Roth or die trying as penance - or else...'

But if that's the case - his men are all purely mercenary - then why the witch hunt for the traitor? He answered his own question, someone else paid them off and the 'inside help' came from them.

(Or for that matter, why keep his bodyguards around at all, if they're that fickle and disloyal that they'd sell him out at the first chance?)

3. Or for that matter were they all in on it? Fredo, alienated by losing out on being Moe Greene's sidekick, and stepped on by Michael; Tom, shut out and ignored [Tom indeed was secretly planning on leaving the Family behind Michael's back], Rocco and his men, always looking for the best deal.

Any insight?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
According to iMDB, it was Fredo.
posted by Beep at 6:54 PM on August 2, 2009

""I know it was you Fredo; you broke my heart."

Fredo was the traitor, Pentangeli was the would-be hit man sent by Roth.

Roth later tries to remove Pentangeli, as Michael predicted when he said that the "men who did this are already dead." The hit on Pentangeli failed, driving the events of the government inquiry and so on, since Pentangeli mistakenly believes it was the Corleones that were out to get him.

Fredo didn't participate in the hit, he just helped Roth when he should not have. He is pathetic little Fredo, after all. That's the point.

(All of this from memory, forgive me if I messed something up.)
posted by rokusan at 6:57 PM on August 2, 2009

It was Fredo. This is made pretty clear. However, he didn't know that his actions would lead to the assassination attempt on Michael, or at least that's what he tells him when he confesses towards the end of the movie. He says something like "I swear to God, Mike, I didn't know they'd try to kill you". Knowing what we know about Fredo, it's a safe assumption that he told Michael the truth, since he's not capable of that kind of duplicitousness, and he probably knew he was doomed at that point either way.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:02 PM on August 2, 2009

It's Fredo. Fredo is both weak and resentful. He is the oldest brother who takes commands from Michael, his betrayal is not clean-cut, it is a mix of anger that he "never got his" and a desire to help the family. He does not want to hurt Michael but is the type that could be manipulated to take a side against his own family because well.. depending on your interpretation, he's human. Yes, Fredo is a complete moron, but by the end of the movie, Michael has disowned his brother, stops speaking to his sister, and his wife has left him. Not the kind of "Godfather" we see in Marlon Brando.

Everything is more or less explained in this scene.

As for how Michael finds out about Fredo, from imdb:

After the assassination attempt on Michael at the Lake Tahoe compound, Michael is certain that there must have been a traitor within the Corleone Family to have helped pull off such a daring coup attempt. He suspects that Hyman Roth is the mastermind behind the assassination attempt, but he knows that Roth would have needed help from the inside. He can trust no one in the Family, except for Tom Hagen.

Days or weeks later, when Michael and Fredo are having drinks together in Havana, Michael decides to test Fredo by asking him if he knows Hyman Roth or Johnny Ola, Roth's right hand man. Fredo tells Michael that he has never met either one of them.

Later that night, when Fredo is entertaining Senator Geary and others by bringing them to the sex show, and after Fredo has had a few too many drinks, he stupidly lets it slip that he knows about the place because Johnny Ola had brought him there. He tells his guests, "Old Man Roth would never come here, but old Johnny knows these places like the back of his hand." Upon hearing Fredo's words, which make it clear that not only has Fredo met Roth and Ola, but that he seems to know at least Johnny quite well, Michael has no doubt that his own brother was the one who betrayed him to his enemies. The look on his face says it all.
posted by phaedon at 7:04 PM on August 2, 2009

Pentangeli was the would-be hit man sent by Roth.

Roth later tries to remove Pentangeli, as Michael predicted when he said that the "men who did this are already dead."

No he wasn't, Pentangeli had nothing to do with Roth. In fact, Roth's beef with Michael was that Michael wouldn't allow him to move against the Roth-backed Rosato brothers.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:04 PM on August 2, 2009

The traitor is obviously Fredo, but do people generally assume that Fredo also opened the curtains and killed the hit men? Or was it a miscellaneous accomplice, or does it not matter? I also wonder about this every time I see the film.
posted by Mapes at 7:09 PM on August 2, 2009

Also, the whole reason Johnny Ola was at the compound was to oversee the hit. Pentangeli was only there to talk to Michael in person about his problems with the Rosato brothers. The reason Pentangeli was later almost whacked is because Michael told Roth that he suspected Pentangeli was behind the hit (although he didn't really), so Roth took that as an excuse to remove him and solve the problems between Pentangeli and the Rosato brothers, who were his guys.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:14 PM on August 2, 2009

For the windows and such, I always just assumed that Roth's men had managed to bribe some low-level soldier(s), the way Barzini bribes Paulie in the first movie. Fredo wouldn't have had to do anything that day at all, but he could've met up with Johnny Ola at some earlier date, allowing Johnny Ola to scope out the bodyguards and find someone bribable.

I don't think Michael knew whether or not there was an additional higher-level traitor until he found out about Fredo. (IIRC, doesn't Fredo do something suspicious in Havana that surprises Michael, and prompts him to ask about Johnny Ola?)

This is definitely a pretty weak point in the plot, though. I'm not sure there is a completely convincing explanation.
posted by equalpants at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2009

In fact, Roth's beef with Michael was that Michael wouldn't allow him to move against the Roth-backed Rosato brothers.

Should be Pentangeli's beef with Michael.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:42 PM on August 2, 2009

I guess I saw it differently...

I assumed the drapes were normally open, and Michael saw some movement outside seconds before the shooting started.

The assassins were killed but Michael's guards, before Rocco could tell them to take them alive.
posted by Marky at 11:20 PM on August 2, 2009

The traitor is obviously Fredo, but do people generally assume that Fredo also opened the curtains and killed the hit men? Or was it a miscellaneous accomplice, or does it not matter? I also wonder about this every time I see the film.

I agree, this is my question in a nutshell. The mechanics of how the hit actually happened aren't explained.

Everything is more or less explained in this scene.

Fredo does admit helping Roth. But in this scene, Fredo also claims that he didn't know it would be a hit. Fredo isn't sophsticated enough to lie that plausibly - note his discomfort when he meets Jonny Ola in Havana. So I take his statement as truth.

I assumed the drapes were normally open, and Michael saw some movement outside seconds before the shooting started.

As I recall the scene, Michael notes the drapes ought not to be open - and this tips off the ever-suspicious Michael that indeed something is very wrong.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 4:13 AM on August 3, 2009

Pentangeli was the would-be hit man sent by Roth.
No he wasn't, Pentangeli had nothing to do with Roth.

You're right, my mistake.

Pentangeli was just the first notion of a possible actor that Michael presented and rolled around to see if it made anyone jump. He told Roth he "knew" it was Pentangeli, then told Pentangeli he "knew" it was Roth, etc... he was flushing out the bushes.

I remembered the scenes with Pentangeli and Roth and answered based on that, but misremembered the overall context of Michael's game-playing. My bad.

To make the OP and my own self feel better, it is a messy set of half-reveals. I've always wondered if the plot points were just a bit sloppy, or if it was deliberately messy to reflect Michael's growing paranoia. I don't know how much credit to give FFC on that one.
posted by rokusan at 4:58 AM on August 3, 2009

Kay asks Michael, "Michael, why are the drapes open?" and then barely misses out on being "Sonny'ed." So somebody must've opened the drapes, somebody in the house. Who did that is not explained. I also took it as truth that Fredo wasn't lying when he said it wasn't gonna be a hit. (He's smaht! Not like everybody else says!) He's just too simple and got lured in too deep by Roth.
posted by bunny hugger at 6:31 AM on August 3, 2009

When Fredo said 'I didn't know they would try and kill you' I heard that as 'I thought they were only going to scare you (you arrogant little brother who humiliated me and took my place in the family.....) I can see Fredo falling for that and picturing himself 'saving' his scared pantless little brother and assuming his rightful leadership role. He was just that clueless.
So, he opened the curtains and let the shooters onto the property.

BTW...I can't wait to see the John Cazale documentary which was just screened in NYC. 5 films only, but what a legacy.
posted by Pennyblack at 7:57 AM on August 3, 2009

Thanks for your insights, everyone. I think it's generally agreed this point remains unclear, at least in terms of what the movie formally spells out.

After reading through the comments and thinking about it myself, I think have this theory (sorry if I'm going into get-your-own-blog territory):

1. Michael's bodyguards, including Rocco, were directly complicit in the original assassination attempt.

-Michael admits this to Tom H. saying 'they're all businessmen', dismissing any notion of loyalty they may have.

-He also says 'the hit came from the inside' and the suspected assassins 'are already dead' -that is, Rocco and men personally shot up his room. There were two dead bodies, convienently pre-arranged for discovery, to pass the blame onto them. This is why Rocco says in a strange tone, 'that might be difficult' when Michael orders the assassins be taken alive. They were already dead.

-After the attempted hit, Michael does not completely trust Rocco again; he does not tell Rocco where he is going when he disappears and turns the family over to Tom. (Nor does Tom tell him when Rocco asks 'where's Michael?' immediately after Michael departs). And after returning to Cuba he asks Rocco to excuse himself from the room while he talks to Tom about Fredo's whereabouts.

-I think that Michael assigning Rocco to assassinate Hyman Roth was Michael's indirect way of taking care of Rocco: Rocco would eliminate his enemy Roth, thus ending any chance of divided loyalty on Rocco's part; and if it failed, Rocco's death would serve as his own punishment. When Michael made the assignment, his implicit understanding of Rocco's suspected role - and Rocco understanding this - let Rocco know, he couldn't say 'no' to this assignment except under peril for his own life.

-a similar argument could be made about Michael's assignment to him, to assassinate Fredo (see below).

2. Fredo was the intermediary through which Jonny Ola and Roth made contact to Michael's men, albeit not really understanding his real role and its consequences.

-Fredo himself admits this to Michael.

-on the phone with Jonny Ola, Fredo indicates he (Fredo) was decieved by Jonny Ola.

-and Fredo isn't devious enough to dissemble plausibly - when he meets Jonny Ola in Havana, ostensibly as strangers, he is visibly uncomfortable. And later when drunk he admits the truth.

-Fredo was nevertheless deeply unhappy being marginalized by Michael as he admits to him ('you stepped right over my head'). It was understood by Roth, Rocco and others, even if not consciously in Fredo's mind, that Fredo would readily accept the Don's mantle even at the expense of Michael's death, thus enabling the assassination.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:39 AM on August 4, 2009

I like that you're into it so much. I love this movie. But....
1. Rocco was not one of the two gunmen to shoot up his bedroom.
2. Rocco was not Michael's #1 bodyguard. He was not let in on some of the discussions like the man in black (his #1), so he was asked to leave. He was probably #3, behind Al Neri.
3. Rocco would get the difficult job of meeting Hyman at the airport with gun in hand, after #1 was killed in Cuba. Somebody had to kill Hyman, someone Michael could trust, so it had to be Rocco.
4. When Rocco asks 'Where's Michael?' immediately after Michael leaves and hands the reins over to Tom, Tom snaps at him because he is in power now and doesn't want to be questioned.
5. Al assassinated Fredo, not Rocco.
6. Fredo was angry at being stepped over and gave Hyman/Johnny an "in" and information because he said they said "there was something in it for me." Becoming Don was not the goal. He was tired of being the bagman.
Capische? :)
posted by bunny hugger at 8:47 AM on August 6, 2009

Hi bunny hugger, indeed I think I mixed up some of the bodyguards. I should have watched GF2 again before posting my question.

So then was Michael wrong, when he presumed that 'the assassins are already dead' as part of an internal cover-up? Was he wrong to not trust his bodyguards?

I like that you're into it so much.

When I feel like I'm missing something it bugs me.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 2:45 PM on August 23, 2009

Hey thermo. Michael was right when he said 'the assassins were already dead' because he knew already it was inside job. i think he figured how else could they have gotten onto the compound. i just don't think he was suspecting his close guys (Al, Rocco, man in black hat) or else they would've been long gone way before the ending...
posted by bunny hugger at 7:52 AM on August 24, 2009

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