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The Godfather, Part II

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Walter Frith read the review ---
3.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

The conventional wisdom is that movie sequels are never as good as the original, and the common belief among most critics is that THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974) represents the classic exception to that rule. As strong and innovative as was THE GODFATHER (1972), most reviewers prefer its successor. (Since I recently had the opportunity to see both on the big screen again, I'll discuss in the end of this review whether I subscribe to this logic.)

Unlike the linear structure of the original, PART II has two parallel stories spanning two different time periods. In the main storyline, the Corleone family continues their nefarious activities from THE GODFATHER, but now it is 1958, and they are concentrating their misdeeds in the Nevada casinos.

Al Pacino repeats his role of Michael Corleone, but he has become the Don since his father, Vito Corleone, died toward the end of THE GODFATHER. (The only other cast member not returning is James Caan as Sonny Corleone since Sonny died in the middle of the original. In an uncredited role, Caan does appear briefly in a flashback sequence in PART II.)

Al Pacino, who was nominated for Academy Awards for both pictures but won neither, approaches his more mature role quite differently from the way he did in the original. This time he plays it much more soft spoken and self-assured. The beauty of the performance can be heard with the tone of his voice and seen in his lips. In most of the film he speaks as a Caesar. He does not need to justify, he needs only to ask, and it shall be done. His clear but low enunciation is that of someone who has the power to make people hang on his every word.

Michael's quietness gives way to tremendous fear whenever he does raise his voice. Most actors confuse shouting with overacting and have trouble separating the two, but not Pacino, at least not in this role. He owns any scene where he shouts.

In all of his scenes, save one, Michael maintains total confidence in his ability to control the situation whether testifying before a pack of voracious Senators or trying to outfox his enemies. His wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), tells him a secret, and Pacino's quivery lip demonstrates the devastation Kay's revelation has had on him. It is during this scene that he childishly sounds his false mantra. "I'll change; I'll change," he insists to a disbelieving wife. "I've learned that I have the strength to change."

The secondary, but significant, other plot revolves around the young Vito Corleone and his introduction to a life of crime. This part starts in 1901 with Oreste Baldini playing Vito Andolini, later renamed by mistake at Ellis Island as Vito Corleone which the immigration official confused his birthplace with his last name.

This part of the story quickly skips ahead to 1917 where a young and innocent looking Robert De Niro gives an Academy Award winning performance in his portrayal of Vito Corleone. De Niro's subtle acting is nevertheless powerful in his exploration of the birth of evil in a person. He turns the film into a coming of age drama, but not the normal saccharine one. This is the genesis of a loving family who was anything but to their enemies and to the world at large.

The most effective part of this story has to do with Vito's overthrow of the local leader of "The Black Hand," Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin). Theadora Van Runkle's costume for Fanucci with his fancy white suit and large brimmed hat sets up the character so perfectly that the acting is of almost secondary importance. During this part, Vito utters the precursor to the most famous line in THE GODFATHER. "I make him an offer he don't refuse," he tells his friends of his plans to get Fanucci to accept $100 instead of the $200 that they owe him.

The script by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo and the editing by Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, and Peter Zinner takes care not to rush either of the two stories. Typically, either a film is told almost totally in flashback or flashbacks happen briefly and then it is back to the main storyline. The subplot of the young Vito in PART II takes perhaps a quarter of the movie and the sequences go on so long, that when you see the movie for the first time, it is easy to convince oneself that most of the movie may be set in Vito's early life.

The original and the sequel contain perfect symmetry without ever seeming repetitious. The beginning of both films has a lavish party at the Corleone estate in celebration of some church event associated with one of the younger members of the family. In the original, it was the wedding of Vito's daughter, and in the sequel, it is the first communion of Vito's grandson. Both parties have people waiting to talk to the current Don. (This church linkage, which the first two suggest but never explore, is developed into the main theme in the fairly unsuccessful PART III -- remember that sequel rule.)

Both films end in a hail of violence with the editing interlacing and carefully sequencing a stream of deaths. Although the first's ending was more like a Goetterdammerung, both are powerful and effective.

The best new character in PART II is the Jewish gangster Hyman Roth. Roth, played with style and cunning by the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, tries to out-connive Michael. Most people get lost during this part of the story, but I think that is what director Francis Ford Coppola wanted. If you are part of the mob, it is rarely clear who are your friends and who aren't. This ambiguity is endemic to crime families. Roth's duplicity is best seen when he expresses regret that someone has attempted the assassination of Michael and his family. "Stupid thugs," complains Roth to a stone-faced Michael. "People behaving like that with guns."

Roth's best line is his boast to Michael on the size of their crime empire -- "We're bigger than U. S. Steel!" (This could be considered the most dated line in the film. Try to think of some current corporate powerhouse in place of U. S. Steel, and the line has more impact.) Equally good and more accurate is Michael's line when he rejects Tom Hagen's (Robert Duvall) suggestion that Roth cannot be touched. "If anything in this life is certain," he lectures Tom sternly. "If history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone."

Nino Rota's music, conducted by Carmine Coppola, has great imagery from romantic and nostalgic to foreboding. It's the type that has you humming the tunes when you leave, but moves you while you are watching the film. Gordon Willis's cinematography again uses low natural light to create ominous shadows indoors and bright colors outdoors to cast a false sense of security about the Corleone family.

Is it true that most sequels pale in significance to the original? Absolutely. The BATMAN series is one of many such examples. But is THE GODFATHER: PART II an exception? Yes and no. I am a big fan of both pictures, but prefer the original slightly for its originally and the intensity of the character's emotions. The sequel is more cerebral which is not bad, but it lacks some of the punch of the original. But, these are two great movies so which is better is probably unimportant anyway.

THE GODFATHER: PART II runs 3:20, but feels no longer than most run-of-the-mill hour and a half shows. It is rated R for graphic violence and profanity. I give the film my strongest recommendation and my top rating of ****.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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