- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by John Paulsen
year and a half after the release of “The Godfather,” Francis Ford Coppola began shooting “The Godfather: Part II.” Historically speaking, sequels are notoriously disappointing, but “Part II” is generally considered to be just as good as (if not better than) the original. If the Academy Awards are any indication, “Part II” did just fine, winning six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro). Surprisingly, even though he was nominated, Al Pacino did not win Best Actor despite the general consensus that his “Part II” portrayal of Michael Corleone is the greatest performance of his career.
One way Coppola avoided the inherent problems of a sequel was to make “Part II” both a sequel and a prequel. The film bounces back and forth in time, following Michael in late 1950’s Nevada/Miami/Havana and young Vito as he leaves Corleone in 1901 (under extraordinarily difficult circumstances) all the way through his rise to power in America some two decades later.
Pacino is at his most menacing as Don Corleone, but his business interferes with his relationship with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), and his brother, Fredo (John Cazale). As the family continues to expand in power, Fredo betrays his brother, and the last half of the film is largely about Michael’s capacity to forgive his brother. For her part, Kay becomes increasingly disgruntled with what her husband has become, and she ultimately makes a shocking decision that rocks Michael’s foundation. She had a chance to walk away in “The Godfather,” but she didn’t, so in “Part II” she has to deal with the life she has created for herself. Kay always felt like the least-developed of the story’s main characters, but her actions in “Part II” justify her presence in both films.
Michael’s biggest foil in “Part II” is Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), a Jewish investor who shows a willingness to work with the Corleone family while actually orchestrating its demise behind the scenes. Roth isn’t physically imposing, but he’s incredibly rich, and that buys influence and loyalty. While the original was about Michael’s rise to power, “Part II” is about his overwhelming desire to keep it, and it’s Roth that stands in his way. But like the first film, “Part II” is also about Vito. The intercut scenes follow his escape from Sicily, his rise to power in New York, and his revenge on the Sicilian Don that threatened his life. Robert De Niro makes a great Vito, and seems to channel Marlon Brando as he transforms into the Don. While compelling in their own right, these flashbacks provide a break from Michael’s single-mindedness, and clearly outline the similarities between the two men.
And in the end, that’s what “The Godfather” is all about. Michael never wanted to be the Don, but circumstances forced his hand. He had every intention to make his own way in the world, but when it was all said and done, he became his father, for better or for worse. We’re just lucky that we got to go along for the ride.
The Coppola Restoration Blu-Ray Review:
Like the single-disc version of the original film, the only special feature for “Part II” is Coppola’s original director commentary. Once again, Coppola is candid, revealing numerous little tidbits like the studio’s objection to the use of “Part II” in the title, thinking that the audience wouldn’t feel the need to see a movie that merely added to the story of the original. Coppola’s commentary is plenty for casual fans to chew on, but those that want more in the way of bonus features should check out The Coppola Restoration gift set, which is only a few dollars more than the price of the single-disc versions of “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II.” The set also features “The Godfather: Part III,” so it’s definitely the best bang for the buck.