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The Godfather, Part II

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Godfather, Part II

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rated: R
RunTime: 200 Minutes
Release Date: December 1974
Genres: Crime, Action, Drama, Classic


*Also starring: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg, Michael Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Joe Spinell, James Caan



Review by Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

There are very few movie sequels that are better than the original and while most are not, there have been some exceptions. Personally, I enjoyed the second installment in the 'Alien' series, directed by James Cameron which, so far, has been the most exciting. 'Lethal Weapon 2' is better than the original and along with 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'The Godfather Part II' is debated by more people, particularly film buffs, as being superior or almost as good as its original. 'The Godfather' is my favorite film of all time and 'The Godfather Part III' in 1990 serves as an entertaining film in which director Francis Ford Coppola finds a new angle worthy of exploring. It details how the Corleone family tries to go legitimate and how their destiny prevents them from doing so. 'The Godfather Part II' falls just short of being better than the original 'Godfather' film for two reasons. It has a more cerebral pace than the first film and it's technically flat. Coppola hardly moves the camera at all and the editing is standard with no real inventive cuts possessing greatness. Don't get me wrong, the film is still brilliant and ranks as #3 on my all time list. I am only comparing it to 'The Godfather' and not other films in general. The academic qualities in 'The Godfather Part II' are its saving grace. Character development, clandestine scenes of criminal activity and thought provoking dialogue with a dramatic wit are in many ways, as compelling as the first film.

'The Godfather' starts in 1945 and spans approximately ten years. As 'The Godfather Part II' opens, Michael Corleone is now head of America's most powerful organized crime family and a servant kisses his hand over the opening theme music and the two of them leave Michael's office with Michael's leather backed chair in focus symbolizing the throne of a king. Next, the setting is Sicily, circa 1901. The lettered message across the screen tells us that Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando's character from the first film) was born Vito Andolini in the town of Corleone in Sicily. His father and brother were murdered by the local Mafia chieftain who murders Vito's mother and the young boy Vito, nine years old in 1901, is sent by friends to America where he arrives at Ellis Island. The film then shifts forward to 1958, three years after 'The Godfather' left off and we are witnessed to Anthony Corleone's first communion ceremony. Anthony is Michael's son, and the Corleone family has now moved all of their business interests and living quarters to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. There is a big party on the property to celebrate the boy's important religious occasion; much in the same way a wedding was used in the first half hour or so in 'The Godfather' to introduce its characters to the audience. Michael (Al Pacino) returns with his brothers Tom (Robert Duvall) and Fredo (John Cazale). Their mother (Morgana King) and sister Connie (Talia Shire) are shown along with Michael's wife Kay (Diane Keaton) and a new character named Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) would turn out to be a pivotal character later in the film.

One of the first meetings we see is between Michael, his associates and a corrupt and mean spirited Nevada senator, played with a sinister sliminess by G.D. Spradlin. Michael then meets his sister Connie who is engaged to marry a man she hardly knows and comes to Michael for money. The sense of family bonding and loyalty is missing from the first film by the time the first half hour or so is up in 'The Godfather Part II' and this is a clever tone that Coppola gives the film, signifying the downfall of the Corleone empire from its once great place on the map of American organized crime. An attempt is made on Michael's life as bullets come whizzing through his bedroom window as he and his wife are about to retire for the evening. Michael is a more ruthless and cold hearted boss than his father was. His father (Marlon Brando, not seen in Part II) always rejected the notion of narcotics and referred to gambling as "a harmless vice". We assume that Michael has made a move towards the narcotics business in Part II since he is questioned about it in a Senate committee hearing on organized crime later in the film.

One of the big acquisitions the Corleone family has made is in Nevada casinos. They next plan to make a move to take over casinos in Cuba and the character of Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) is played in reference to Meyer Lansky, a real life mob figure. Roth lives in Miami and Michael travels to see him. Michael and Roth are business partners who plan to take over the Cuban casinos together. We then learn through a reference to the attempt on Michael's life earlier in the film that Roth was the one who set it up. He says to Michael: "I heard you had some trouble. Stupid, people behaving that way with guns." How would he know what happened to Michael unless he gave the order, particularly involving guns. Not realizing he has given himself away to Michael, Michael plots to kill him on their trip to Cuba.

At some point around this time and throughout the entire run of 'The Godfather Part II', we shift back and fourth from the present to the past to tell two stories, Michael's control of the family towards the end of the fifth decade of the twentieth century to the days around World War I in New York City where Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro, playing Brando's character from the first film as a young man this time), is seen in his beginnings as a humble and hard working immigrant to his rise as THE GODFATHER. Robert De Niro is the only member of the cast that was honoured with an Oscar for his work. He won the Best Supporting Actor prize and Brando and De Niro are the only two actors to date, to win an Academy award for playing the same character.

Vito Corleone works in a grocery store and spends his time as a loving husband to his beautiful wife and as a loving father to his newborn son Santino (James Caan in 'The Godfather) and he sees how the neighbourhood he lives in is prey to the delight of Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin). He collects money from all the merchants and takes things without paying for them. The citizens kiss his hand upon seeing him and he controls the police and keeps the neighbourhood living in fear. Determined not to be a puppet, held by the strings of big shots (the logo for the 'Godfather' films), Vito Corleone along with a young Peter Clemenza (Bruno Kirby) and Sal Tessio (John Aprea), slowly begin claiming neighbourhood territory for themselves. They begin as petty thieves and work their way up to establishing a front for their illegal business which is the legitimate Genco olive oil company. Vito Corleone would later settle the score with the Mafia chieftain responsible for killing his entire family.

As 'The Godfather Part II' becomes more and more engrossing with each passing frame, the film shows family betrayals and some historical fact as well. The scenes with Michael and Hyman Roth in Cuba are set at the end of 1958. The Cuban presidential palace is host to a party of international dignitaries on New Year's Eve when the current president steps down during a bloody revolution and the birth of the Castro regime was formed, kicking out the Mafia under the communist ruled system and everything to do with their business, including control of the casinos.

Michael's marriage to Kay falls apart throughout the film, and Michael begins to see that he constructed his empire the wrong way, a way in which resistance to his plans was easy. Michael lacked the political skill his father had to keep everything in line and Michael's under handed control of the family is something his father would not approve of. There are references to Shakespearean themes in 'The Godfather Part II" and Part III has a more clearly defined passage of them and a clearer and less cerebral pace. 'The Godfather Part II' is certainly the most ambitious movie sequel ever made. Its determination to be on a larger scale in terms of its production values and diversification of characters within organized crime is to be admired. To many, it was a film that had an acquired taste. Coppola is quoted as saying in a documentary on all three films that there were disastrous previews for Part II and he was nervous about its release.

Critics were impressed. Audiences were slower and less fouthcoming but the Academy gave it six Oscars, three more than the original. 'The Godfather' won three for Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Screenplay Adaptation (Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo), based on Puzo's novel. 'The Godfather Part II' was honoured with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Screenplay Adaptation (Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Original Music Score for Carmine Coppola, Francis' father. The film has the distinction being one in only a handful of films in history to receive five Oscar nominations for acting. Al Pacino for Best Actor, Talia Shire for Best Supporting Actress and Michael V. Gazzo, Lee Strasberg and Robert De Niro for Best Supporting Actor.

'The Godfather Part II' is an example of how a carefully crafted sequel to a great film can work when attention is paid to its artistic quality. An element of distinction between integrity and a film's dollar value can be the difference between a director who lives for the moment or one that lives forever. Like the music of Mozart and Beethoven, the paintings of Michaelangelo and the invention of aviation, Coppola's 'Godfather' films will live and fly forever.

Copyright 1997 Walter Frith

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