Bottom Line: An offer you can’t refuse. Even better than the first part.
“I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.” –Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, G.D. Spradlin, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, Richard Bright, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire
1972’s original GODFATHER movie encased an interesting enough plot. Though the film introduced us to all of the Corleones, a Sicilian crime family, it seemed to focus primarily on Michael Corleone. We recognized Michael from the very start as the only good Corleone. He was the only one in his family to attend college, he fought in the Marines, and he wanted nothing to do with the violence in his family. Yet he was so close to his father, Don Vito Corleone. The first film depicted Michael’s time up to becoming the new Don after his father Vito had become unable to remain in that position. PART II takes an alternating role between a prequel and a sequel. It sounds a bit odd, but it’s actually more like watching a theatrical play with two acts that smoothly intertwine. The first act opens up in 1901, where we see nine-year-old Vito coming to America after his mother and father are killed by the Don of a different Mafia family. We learn that his surname was not initially Vito Corleone: he was born Vito Andolini, but his surname was mistakenly changed at Ellis Island to Corleone, the small Sicilian town from which he had come. The time period soon moves to the late 1910s and progresses through the mid-1920s to give a deeper back story to Vito (played by Robert De Niro in a much younger role than the previous entry’s Marlon Brando). The second act takes place only a few years after the original GODFATHER, following Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as the new Don. Here, we are familiarized with his attempts to increase the family’s power, as well as his wife’s attempts to avoid a criminal legacy.
Even today, it’s still practically unheard of for a film to be both a prequel and a sequel. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because I actually find it to be interesting. THE GODFATHER PART II was a good example of a film that works perfectly this way. It occasionally works as an adaptation, expounding on the important flashbacks that appeared only in Mario Puzo’s 1969 Godfather novel, and not in the classic film adaptation. Otherwise, it takes liberty in constructing its own original plot that equally provides back story and continuation. These original points take up roughly 90% of the screenplay, a brave (not to mention successful) turn.
“Non mi interessa in cose che non mi riguardano.” –Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone
Don’t ask me how this film entertains so marvelously. Its predecessor had the same embellishment, but not as strongly. THE GODFATHER PART II is a whopping three hours and twenty minutes, but once an hour has passed by, it will only have felt like twenty minutes, if that. Furthermore, every scene is absolutely worth its place here. Take one scene out and the plot loses its timeless value. The first I would jump to praising for making this film endure every single minute it possesses is Robert De Niro. Let me be clear: Marlon Brando was great in the original film, as a thoroughly intriguing and convincing representation of the title character. Though Robert De Niro is the one who actually becomes his character in this film. He doesn’t speak a word of English in all of his screen time, yet that doesn’t hold him back from seeming even more like a ruthless criminal than Brando did.
Other than the plots, THE GODFATHER PART II is very much similar to its predecessor. It reprises much of the subtleties that set the first film profoundly apart from any other crime drama: the quiet musical score (this time with intermixed pieces that sound even more Italian); the steady, easygoing pace; the cinematographic film-noir mood, with abundant silhouetting. If there is one aspect that does make this more interesting than the original, it certainly is the plot(s).
Postscript: I’m not using this film’s theatrical poster for my review mainly because it looks to me more like a poster for a spaghetti Western.