|Rating: The Good – 94.4
Duration: 200 mins
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall
Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to the seminal The Godfather is generally regarded not simply as the best sequel of all time but one of the best films of all time. The linear format of the first story is relinquished in favour of two interwoven tales. One focuses on Michael (Al Pacino) as he continues to lose the battle for his soul while the other tells the the tale of how a young Vito (played by Robert De Niro) managed to rise to the rank of Don Corleone during his early years in the US.
The Godfather Part II differs from the original in many distinct ways beyond the obvious format changes. The themes explored are much darker as Michael Corleone’s arc is replaced by a straight line of descent. While many authors would’ve been tempted to turn him into another Vito, it’s a sign of genuine integrity that Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola remained loyal to the character’s original complexities and charted an uncomfortably believable journey. Pacino has less range to play with, given that he was no longer juggling a contrasting character shift but he does have some murky depths to plum and he responds in astonishing fashion turning in one of the most intense performances we’ve ever seen on screen. De Niro rightly got much plaudits for his uncanny depiction of a young Brando but the more weighty and arresting acting was done by the former. That said, De Niro is truly magnetic as Vito Corleone in his prime and, as such, he gives the flashback sequences a different energy all together. Through his retro-engineering of Brando’s Vito and some awfully clever writing, these segments are chock full of fascinating clues as to what made Don Corleone the man he was. These sequences are also directed with more verve when they need to be but, during more important moments, they are slowed down to create a breathless tension. The rooftop sequence in particular (like the restaurant scene in The Godfather) is a veritable masterclass in pacing as Coppola lures us into the mind of Vito as he crosses that same threshold Michael was to cross years later in Louis’ restaurant.
The Godfather Part II is as much a masterclass in composition, lighting, framing, and pacing as the original was. The film opens with another gloriously constructed family sequence which Coppola uses to once again outline the various political and personal circumstances of the main players. The Cuban segments in particular stand out not only because they lighten the heavy mood of the Nevada segments and the earlier timeline but because of how Coppola incorporates the political intrigue (both outer and inner) into the wider story of Michael’s search for his hidden enemy. That said, it must be noted that, due to the inevitability of the Corleone family’s trajectory, The Godfather Part II does not maintain that same warmth and sense of connection that the events of the first film took place within. Even during the more unsettling moments of the original, there was always a sense of family and protection surrounding Michael and co. In this film, those securities have been almost completely eroded. Michael’s relationship with Kay (in another brilliant performance from Diane Keaton) withers and, with it, his trust in others begins to falter irrevocably. It’s a powerful piece of writing done justice by the equally impressive acting and directing.
Whether or not The Godfather Part II is better than the original will always be a matter of debate and perhaps more so, preference. What can be said, is that together they easily rank as one of the greatest two-part stories ever told on film. Alone, they are something just as special and equally timeless.