#1 “The Godfather Part II”
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Stars: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasburg, Robert DeNiro, Michael V. Gazzo, John Cazale, Talia Shire
Original Release Date: 20 Dec 1974
Oscars: 6 (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Score, Screenplay, Art Direction), 6 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% Berardinelli: 4.0 , #47 All time Top 100
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 3.0 original, 4.0 re-review in 2008, Top 10 of the 70’s
IMDB Top 250: #3
The Godfather Part II is my single favourite film and has been for over 20 years. It’s a bit of a curious choice because it cannot stand on its own without the original film, whereas The Godfather is a complete film in and of itself. The first film makes the second one great and the second one adds immeasurable depth to the first. (Let’s not mention Part III).
While there is a theme running through my top three films (gangster film, set within a certain era, long running time, sweeping story lines) there is a darkness and sadness to The Godfather Part II that gives it an timeless appeal.
You cannot discuss this film without reference to the first. At the end of Part I, we see Michael, now in iron fisted control on the Corleone Empire, his enemies vanquishes and his power absolute. We have watched him transform from disinterest outsider to a man who will do literally anything to maintain his power.
In Part II, we get two intertwined stories. Set in the current time of the late 1950s, we see Michael’s vast empire increase as he takes control of gambling in Vegas and sets in motion a plan to do the same in pre-Castro Cuba. This story is woven with flash backs to the rise of his father, Vito. It stretches a timeline from 1901 when Vito escapes from Sicily, to the final shot of Michael, isolated, in 1964.
Robert DeNiro plays Young Vito in an Oscar winning performance that I consider the greatest of all time. DeNiro lived in Sicily for four months to learn the dialect and brilliantly adopts the Bronx accent and penchant to pepper in a little English here and there as well. It’s a school in method acting, subtlety, gesture and character.
In the opening scene, it is the first communion of Michael’s son Anthony and Michael is seeing supplicants in the same way his father did in Part I at Connie’s wedding. Michael is growing paranoid and distrustful of everyone, including his long time consigliore Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). He embarks on a mission to find out who is loyal while expanding his empire. The screenplay gives us little information as we watch Michael joust with the various players in his life. He makes each move having to anticipate endless life or death outcomes.
The cast of this movie is flawless. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his 2008 essay, are there any other films in which you can name 6, 7 or 8 characters 40 years later? Michael V Gazzo as Frankie Penatangali is brilliant, tough, old school; easily confused but in his mind knows right from wrong. John Cazale reprises his role as Fredo, Michael’s witless brother. Pacino and Cazale were good friends and went on to make Dog Day Afternoon together.
Lee Strasburg, founder of The Actors Studio, comes out of retirement to play Hyman Roth,. On the outside, he is a soft-spoken even kindly aging Jewish man, but inside, a ruthless criminal with an empire to protect.
As we watch the flash back scenes, we see Don Vito rise from a street thug and killer to the man he became, still a criminal but a leader, a diplomat and a man loved by those around him. We watch Michael, unable to stay in his father’s footsteps, become a man who will do anything and lose everything he loves to maintain power. Vito Corleone’s empire was controlled by love and respect; Michael’s by fear.
What I love about this movie, what puts it atop my list and keeps it just a teeny bit ahead of Goodfellas is the vastness of the story arch and the depths of its themes. To dismiss this movie (and Part I) as glorification of the mafia is to miss the point entirely. This is a film about guilt, the secrets we carry in the deepest caverns of our souls, the transience of power and living in the shadows and expectations of our fathers.
Michael Corleone: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Francis Ford Coppola wanted to produce the movie and not direct. He chose Martin Scorsese to direct but was turned down by the studio and took on the project himself.
Robert Deniro and Marlon Brando are the only two actors to receive Oscars for portraying the same character.
The word mafia is never spoken in the first film. The Part II, it is spoken three times, each one at the Senate hearing.
Legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman can be seen as one of the senators.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis became known as the “Prince of Darkness” for his use of dimly lit scenes in these two movies.
Nominated for 12 Oscars and winner of 6, including Director, Picture and Screenplay. The first movie sequel to ever win Best Picture. It was made for $13,000,000 and gross a very impressive $58,000,000. However, it never lived up to the expectations set by the original, which grossed $134,000,000 domestic and became the highest grossing movie of all time.
Today, this movie routinely appears near the top of many “Best Of All Time Lists”. At the time of its release, it received tepid reviews and was considered too long and convoluted.