Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo
(based on the novel THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo)
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo & Morgana King
Though I’ve seen THE GODFATHER on numerous occasions, I’m ashamed to admit that I never got around to watching either of the sequels. Though I hear that the third film has a somewhat notorious reputation, I have heard nothing but praise for the second installment over the years from various sources. Some people even go as far as proclaiming that this sequel is superior to that acclaimed original crime epic. Having finally sat through THE GODFATHER: Part II, I can say that the film is even longer than its predecessor and far more accomplished in every possible way. GODFATHER II manages to simultaneously hold up as a prequel and a sequel to the first film, which makes it a departure from your average follow-up. GODFATHER II is one of the best gangster movies that I’ve ever laid eyes on and among the rare breed of sequels that surpass their predecessors.
It’s 1958 and Michael Corleone has cemented a place as a powerful kingpin in the crime community. His family business remains far from legitimate, but he now has started a family with his lovely wife Kay. When Michael partners up with elderly Jewish mob boss Hyman Roth, it quickly becomes apparent that his new partner is playing multiple sides and has it in for Michael. However, Michael plays the game of “keeping your enemies closer than your friends” which may or may not work to his favor as his empire threatens to fall apart. In a parallel narrative, we see Vito (Michael’s dearly departed father and a central figure in the first film) rise to power in 1917’s New York City.
The idea of combining dual narratives, one taking place before the events of the first film and the other holding as a traditional sequel, was a ballsy move on the part of Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo (who wrote the novels that these films are based on and helped pen the screenplay). The risk pays off in spades as the parallel plotlines weave in and out of each other with ease. Though the storylines don’t exactly mirror each other in the events playing out, they certainly blend well in tone. The switches back and forth between both narratives are lengthy and come out of nowhere. They can be seen as jarring at first, but make tonal sense in where they interrupt each other. I imagine that the film could have played out far differently if we were shown Vito’s story in full first and then Michael’s or vice versa. The decision to bounce them off each other was a stroke of genius.
As far as performances go, Al Pacino shines again as Michael. Though the character seems to have retained far more humanity than one might expect from that bleaker-than-beak conclusion to the first film, he somehow manages to become even more corrupted and downright evil in this sequel. You’re forced to side with him as his opponents wind up being somehow worse, but there are definitely scenes that make you pause and question whether or not you should be siding with this two-faced mob boss. Diane Keaton is given much more room to emote here as Michael’s wife. She was far from my favorite part of the first film (I felt that her character was a bit one-dimensional), but she easily delivers one of the most powerful moments in this follow-up (you will know it when you see it). Robert De Niro gives one of his best performances as the young Vito. His ascent to power from shy citizen to powerful criminal is believable and haunting. Meanwhile, we are given a very unconventional villain in Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth. This guy reminded me of Robert Durst (recently chronicled on HBO’s THE JINX) in that he seems like a feeble old man, but there’s a sinister dark side to him.
Running at over three hours (complete with an Intermission on the DVD), GODFATHER II manages to be far more interesting and compelling than its already stellar predecessor. There’s also less violence this time around that I could identify off-hand. A lot of the more violent actions happen off-screen, though we are still given our fair share of mob executions. One sequence in particular in which Vito commits his first (and only on-screen) kill is bone-chilling. The entire scene stretches for about five minutes and consists of cold, calculated stalking and hiding. Even when the deed is committed that we all knew was coming, it’s still shocking. The most brilliant thing about GODFATHER II is how it manages to further develop characters who were already extremely well-developed to begin with. In seeing these dual story-arcs, more layers have been added to Michael and Vito.
GODFATHER: Part II didn’t disappoint. It’s easily one of the best gangster movies that I’ve seen and manages to one-up its preceding crime epic in every possible way. The performances are still brilliant, the screenplay is rock solid and complex, and there’s an air of sophistication and tension throughout this whole sequel. GODFATHER: Part II is a must-see for fans of the first movie and crime film aficionados! Easily one of the finest sequels to ever grace the silver screen.