Godfather Part II, The (1974)
Release Date: December 20th, 1974 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Francis Ford Coppola Actors: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Bruno Kirby
he familiar, haunting, opening trumpet music once again sets the tone for one of the greatest of all American films, and an incomparably lauded sequel that, if it’s even possible, outdoes Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s original cinematic masterpiece. Only two years after the release of the first, “The Godfather Part II” scored several more Oscar wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Music (for Nino Rota and Coppola’s father Carmine), and Best Supporting Actor for newcomer Robert De Niro. Lengthier, arguably more monumental, and no less artistic in style and construction, it again showcases Pacino in a tour de force performance that is easily the best of his career.
This second part to the most epic of film sagas introduces audiences to the origins of the original Godfather, Don Vito Corleone. He was born Vito Andolini in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1901, his father was murdered for an insult to the local mob boss, Don Ciccio (Giuseppe Sillato), and his brother Paolo is shot shortly thereafter while trying to take revenge. When his mother begs the don to spare her only remaining child, he refuses, and she too is killed – this sacrifice, however, ensures that young Vito can escape to New York.
By 1917, Vito (Robert De Niro) is grown up and has a baby, Santino (played by James Caan as an adult in the first film). Don “The Black Hand” Fanucci (Gaston Maschin) is the local Italian crime boss who collects money from the neighborhood where Vito’s family lives. When he loses his job at a bread shop after Fanucci demands that his nephew gain employment there, Vito witnesses firsthand the power and fear inspired by the mobster. Later, his next door neighbor Clemenza asks him to stash a sack of guns for a few days and returns the favor by offering his wife a nice rug – a “gift” that he helps to steal from a luxurious home. Soon, their business of thievery starts bringing in noticeable money, causing him to cross paths once again with Fanucci, who demands a cut. But in an act of defiance and fortitude, the aspiring leader negotiates an “offer he can’t refuse.” Simultaneously, he racks up owed favors from his friends, a habit that leads to eventual, unequaled persuasion and influence in the area.
It’s 1958, Nevada, when the second interweaved storyline interrupts to continue Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) exploits as the new Godfather and commander of his criminal family. Various friends, businessmen and politicians line up to speak with Michael at a celebration, much like the first film’s initial wedding sequence. He now owns two casinos and is planning on taking over a third, which local Senator Geary (G.D. Spradlin) isn’t thrilled about. An attempt to put the squeeze on the don by overcharging him for the gaming license, along with monthly payments based on a percentage of all of his casino’s profits, doesn’t bode well for the statesman, who clearly doesn’t realize the connections and inducements available to the mafia captain. Meanwhile, brother Fredo (John Cazale) can’t control his frequently drunk trophy wife, while sister Connie (Talia Shire) leads an undisciplined lifestyle that finds her rarely around her kids and only returning home when in need of money.
If keeping track of all the names, faces, and locations was taxing in the first film, this second part gets even more confusing, especially with the alternating stories and abundance of new characters and settings. It doesn’t help that several conspiracies and betrayals taking place are continually lied about, to prevent the guilty parties (and viewers) from catching on to Michael’s schemes. Several botched assassination endeavors give rise to further beguilement. This is a film that practically demands multiple viewings. Frankie Pentangeli (Michael Gazzo) is an older man who now runs the remnants of the Corleone empire in New York, but gets sloppy, and his interests in revenge peg him for deceit. Similarly, Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) of Miami, a wise Jewish businessman, tries to get Michael to invest in ventures in Cuba, but the shaky government, his poor health, and suspicious activities are all cause for alarm. When an attempt is made on the lives of Michael and his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), he hands operations over to his most trusted ally, adopted brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), to allow the Godfather time to personally get to the bottom of the backstabbing and duplicity.
Many scenes mirror moments in the original, making this the perfect complementing companion piece to serve as both a sequel and a prequel. With its 200-minute runtime, it definitely has enough content for more than one movie and the undeniable feel of a spanning, sprawling, grand gangster tragedy. The themes of violence and family play even more heavily in this ensuing chapter, as relationships begin to deteriorate further and death looms over just about every character. Young Vito rises to power in New York through the use of aggression, force, and influential friends, while Michael’s reputation and name are dragged through the mud when he’s indicted for perjury and felonious dealings as the head of the most prevailing mafia regime in the States. It’s never more poignant and potent than when Kay finally recognizes his maddening descent into the all-consuming inhumanity of the business, and Michael reveals that he would use all of his power to prevent her from taking his kids away – even if none of them want to stay together. Whereas the first film dealt chiefly with rivalry, revenge, and corruption and the related transformation, “The Godfather Part II” deals considerably in shifting ascendancies, manipulation, regret, and reflection – for Michael and for the audience as they watch the events of Vito’s past unfold. During the film’s final, grievous, and breathtaking moments, Michael has reached the critical point in which redemption and escape are no longer options.
– Mike Massie