The Godfather Part II
November 18, 2005
Francis Ford Coppola,
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Richard Bright, Gastone Moschin, Tom Rosqui, Bruno Kirby, Frank Sivero, Francesca De Sapio, ,
Fresh from the phenomenal success of the first Godfather film (1972), Francis Ford Coppola quickly followed it with Part II (1974), a sequel that many consider superior to its predecessor. However, over the years the two parts meld together so seamlessly and compliment each other so well that they really feel like one large movie.
Of the two movies, Part II is much more ambitious as Coppola weaves two stories together: the rise of a young Vito Corleone (De Niro) and Michael Corleone’s (Pacino) consolidation of his empire. The movie begins in the past as we see Vito as a young boy escaping certain death in Italy to America along with countless immigrants hoping to have a fresh start. It’s the archetypal Horatio Alger story of a boy who starts with nothing to become a powerful crime figure.
Michael is entrenched in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and in league with Senator Geary (Spradlin) who has smoothed things over with the Gaming Commission so that the Corleone family can expand their casino empire in Las Vegas. However, Geary wants a larger cut for his troubles and also makes it known that he doesn’t like Michael’s family. Michael denies him the raise and refuses to pay the gaming license setting the wheels in motion for the inevitable conflict.
To make matters worse, trouble is also brewing with rival Miami gangster Hyman Roth (Strasberg) that Michael spends most of the movie planning and helping put together an immense merger in Cuba that will create several lucrative casinos. This is done in conjunction with several other powerful businessmen that only serves to underline the corporatization of the Mafia and by extension, America. Michael realizes that in order to thrive and survive, he must think like a CEO of a large company.
There are so many classic scenes in this movie but the one that always sticks in my mind is when Michael tells Fredo that he knows he’s the traitor within the family. He grabs his brother, kisses him and says, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” It’s the kiss of death as Fredo has gone against the family for the last time.
Any vestige of humanity that was in Michael in Part I is absent in Part II. Al Pacino portrays him as the calculated head of the Corleone family. His face is a cold, impenetrable mask that gives away nothing. It is like he is dead inside. It’s a tightly controlled, minimalist performance from an actor normally known for his explosive intensity.
Robert De Niro delivers a thoughtful performance as the youthful Vito. In certain scenes he is shown observing, soaking things in, which he’ll then apply later on in life. John Cazale is also excellent as Michael’s traitorous brother, Fredo, tired of being constantly passed over by his ambitious sibling. So, he betrays Michael as retribution and Cazale brilliantly conveys Fredo’s conflicted nature. He’s strictly small-time and his vendetta is so petty. And yet, its ramifications create huge ripples.
Gone is the warm, family vibe of Don Vito and in its place a more business-like way of doing things. Clearly, this transformation is a metaphor the corporatization of America. The important distinction that Coppola draws between Vito and Michael is that the former turns to a life of crime in order to support his family while Michael does it for the power and the money. The Godfather Part II ends on an anti-climatic note as Michael has achieved more power and eliminated all of his enemies but it is a hollow victory because he is dead inside.
When Paramount first released The Godfather films in a box set they were heavily criticized for the substandard transfers of these classics. It is unimaginable that a studio of that size would not spend the necessary money to clean up and restore these movies. There was some hope that now they are releasing them again, separately, that they would clean up the prints. Sadly, this is not the case and we are subjected to same crappy transfers.
Carried over from the original DVD is Francis Ford Coppola’s excellent audio commentary. Initially, he had no interest in doing a sequel and dealing with studio bureaucracy. He suggested Martin Scorsese for the job. The studio balked at this idea and accepted all of Coppola’s terms. The veteran filmmaker talks at length about the development of the Corleone family from Part I. Coppola also touches upon his love of improvisation and how he had the cast rehearse on location in Lake Tahoe. They improvised for a whole day in effort to get into character. Coppola is engaging and very articulate, delivering a top notch track that is well worth a listen for any fan of this movie.
Also included is a trailer.