#30. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo (based on The Godfather by Mario Puzo)
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Michael V. Gazzo, Lee Strasberg
The second film in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy builds on the winning formula established in the first film, but raises the stakes even higher, this time challenging viewers and daring them to sympathize with one of film’s most complicated anti-heroes. The Godfather Part II features two main story arcs, the first focusing on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) after his rise to Don of the Corleone crime family, and the second taking place in the early 1900’s, seeing the rise of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) upon his arrival to America. Michael is attempting to expand the reach of his newly attained syndicate, but is held back by internal betrayals, assassination attempts, and government interference. In order to be seen as a truly powerful and successful Don, Michael must decide what is most important: the syndicate, or his own family. The Godfather Part II is easily the most complex and nuanced chapter in Coppola’s trilogy, introducing a wide arrange of new characters, all of whom have their own complicated allegiances and motivations. The screenplay is masterful, advancing the character of Michael Corleone into territory rarely explored in films up to this point – transforming him from an ambitious, conflicted young man in the first film, into a full-blooded ruthless Don in Part II. Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone is perhaps one of the best performances of his entire career, perfectly capturing the stark transformation of his character – every minor change in personality and attitude makes sense and comes off as entirely believable. The performance of Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone is also very noteworthy, serving as a perfect launching pad for De Niro’s career to follow. Vito’s character arc in the film’s flashback scenes is very similar to Michael’s between the first two films, which adds to the story’s underlying beauty and inherent tragedy. Francis Ford Coppola’s incredible direction and writing featured in The Godfather Part II set unmatchable standards for sequels to follow, and many would argue that it is the greatest sequel ever made. It raises the already urgent stakes found in the first film using Michael’s own justified paranoia and his internal struggle with advancing the syndicate. Rather than simply continuing the story and delivering more of the same, The Godfather Part II feels like the next logical step in terms of character development, plot, and themes – it’s bigger, meaner, and more challenging than the original. Part II brought home six Academy Awards, including Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), and Best Writing (Coppola and Mario Puzo) – adding to the impressive three Oscars earned by the first film. The Godfather Part II is intelligent, intense, heartbreaking, incredibly well-paced thanks to its script, features Al Pacino in a career-best performance, and a young and hungry Robert De Niro who dominates every scenes he’s featured in. If you’ve never seen The Godfather trilogy, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.