Pros: Stellar cast, superior story
Cons: None, a five-star movie
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is the head of the most powerful Mafia family in America, having taken over the family business from his late father, Vito. He has relocated his family from New York to Lake Tahoe, where he is running his affairs while trying to be a good father and husband. In the meantime, through a series of flashbacks, we get to see how young Vito Andolini became Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) and how he slowly turned to a life of organized crime in director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 sequel The Godfather: Part II.
It’s been seven years since Michael Corleone declared to his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) that the Corleone family would be completely legitimate within five years. And while Michael is buying up legitimate businesses (namely Nevada casinos,) he is also attempting to expand his mob activities into Cuba by aligning himself with “businessman” Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg,) as well as legitimate businesses such as AT&T. In the meantime, Michael is seemingly getting double crossed by everyone from Roth to one of his father’s former mob partners, Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo.) Hell, even his brother Fredo (John Cazale) and wife Kay have dropped bombshells on him. He’s also facing a Senate inquiry into his activities. In other words, Michael’s world is crumbling around him, and it’ll take all of his strength to maintain control.
Meanwhile, we get a series of flashbacks in which De Niro portrays a younger Vito Corleone, who escaped a Sicilian Mafia attempt on his life by immigrating to America as a nine-year-old boy. As he matures, Vito falls in with a petty thief named Peter Clemenza (Bruno Kirby) and slowly turns to a life of crime in order to support his family, eventually taking over the neighborhood as he gains more power. A lot of questions get answered through these flashbacks (hell, we even get to learn how Don Tommasino from The Godfather hurt his leg and ended up in a wheelchair, such is the continuity between the two films.)
It’s very rare (in fact, this might be the only case) that a sequel is as good (or at least, almost as good) as its predecessor. The Godfather: Part II was so good that it was the first sequel to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture (and Coppola won Best Director, making the movie into a double-whammy powerhouse.)
As was the case with The Godfather, it’s the casting that sets the film apart. De Niro is outstanding as the young, wise Vito (he won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, matching Marlon Brando’s Best Leading Actor award for his portrayal as Old Vito in The Godfather. And Pacino grows in his Michael role as the character becomes more and more paranoid as his power increases (Pacino, however, lost out to Art Carney for Best Actor in a Leading Role, making it the second consecutive time he lost a nomination for playing Michael Corleone.) Meanwhile, both Strasberg and Gazzo were strong enough in their roles that they both were nominated for Supporting Actor, losing out to De Niro. Hell, even Talia Shire was nominated for Supporting Actress for her role as Michael’s sister Connie (which is amazing considering she’s rarely onscreen in this one.) And of course, Robert Duvall does his usual solid job in his portrayal as Michael’s step brother/lawyer Tom Hagen.
I thought that The Godfather was a perfect movie, and The Godfather: Part II is as close as it gets. Granted, it’s not as violent as the first movie (there is no mob war going on, for instance,) it’s just as tense and as dark (both script-wise and film-wise. Even many of the outdoor scenes were fairly dark, and even during daylight hours, Michael spends an inordinate amount of time in dark rooms.) It helps to watch The Godfather first in order to get the gist of the story, but The Godfather: Part II is definitely a must see.