The Godfather Part II Review

The Godfather Part II is a 1974 crime drama written/directed by Fracis Ford Coppola and co-written by Mario Puzo. The film is a sequel to the 1972 classic and was the only the only sequel to receive the Oscar for Best Picture until Return of the King won the same award in 2003.

Story
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) continues to run the Corleone crime family after his father's death. Surrounded on all sides by enemies and unsure of who to trust, he formulates a plan to eliminate his enemies and anybody who gets in the way of his success. In addition, we get flashbacks showing the early life of Don Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) and his rise to powerful crime boss.

Godfather Part II has roughly the same structure as the first Godfather movie; start the film with a celebratory event to show the difference between the life of family and The Family, an assassination attempt sparks a battle of wits, conspiracy and bloodshed and Michael is trying to survive and excel through all of it. It seems oddly structured because until the middle of the second act there isn't a definitive goal or point to the film. Instead, we just watch Michael deal with both his home life and his job as the Godfather. It's also strange because in between parts of Michael's story we have flashbacks of Vito's life, which feel like a completely separate movie all on their own. It's a good movie, but it feels like it was patched in to pad out the time.

All of that is forgivable, however, because these characters are so interesting to watch, especially Michael, who's grown into a cold-hearted crime boss a thousand times more dangerous and cruel than his father ever was. This contrast is helped made clear through the flashbacks to Vito's life in Italy and his immigration to America. We get the sense that even though he was willing to kill people to get what he wanted he still had some sense of humanity; he did favors for people and returned favors that were done for him. Michael, however, seems to demand respect and expect fear rather than earning them, which honestly makes for a more interesting character; when somebody who expects to get what he wants doesn't it's intriguing to see what lengths he'll go to to get his way. The character is doubly interesting when you contrast what he was in the first movie: a mild mannered WWII veteran, wanting nothing to do with the mob and just live his life as a family man. To see him so immersed into a world of crime and senseless murder is intriguing, captivating and so much more interesting than the first film.

I don't think Vito's rise to crime lord really makes a lot of sense. For example, there's a scene of him stealing a carpet with somebody else. When a policeman comes to the door his friend takes out a gun and is prepared to shoot the cop, but Vito does nothing about it. Why not? He didn't seem to have any history of excessive violence and murder as far as the audience has seen, so why didn't he at least protest when the possibility of murder was introduced? Vito's rise to Godfather feels like something that happens because it needs to in order for the first movie to happen. I kind of felt the same way about Michael's transformation in the first film; why does he enter the family business just because his wife died? What does her death have to do with any of it? He avenged the people who tried to kill his father, so why doesn't he just move on with his life?

The screenplay is an interesting animal because although the dialogue should sound overly melodramatic and ridiculous it comes off as sounding normal. It's like Lord of the Rings in that respect. Perhaps it comes from the filmmakers effectively establishing the epic scope of the story; since the scope is so huge it would be almost strange if everybody didn't talk like this. I also admire that they kept most of the dialogue in Italian, since these Italian people would have no reason to speak English to each other.

Technical
The color orange continues to be used in the film not just with the movies' iconic dangerous oranges, but also with the lighting. In the flashback scenes is mostly used to show that we're in the past. In other scenes it's mostly used in Michael's office and other scenes where they conduct mafia business, so perhaps it does coincide with oranges as a sign of danger or evil.

The sound editing is pitch perfect, especially with environmental sound. It can be hard balancing background noise with the main diegetic sound, but this film manages to pull it off flawlessly. For example, there's a scene in Cuba where Michael is talking with Fredo in a busy outdoor cafe. There are several pedestrians going by, music playing and the wind blowing in the wind. It would be so easy for the sound team to fall into two separate traps: either they make the background noise too loud, drowning out the actors, or they make it too soft and you have a scene that's unnaturally quiet. They manage to hit the sweet spot: the sounds are audible, but are merely atmosphere to the main story.

I didn't really think much of the music in the first film, thinking it was ok at best. However, I did notice how completely different the second film's score was. It's unlike any other soundtrack I've heard. The notes it manages to strike are both epic and tragic, to the point where you're not sure if what's happening is supposed to be happy or sad.

The acting in this film continues to be top notch. Al Pacino practically walks away with the movie as he portrays the cold, calculating Michael. Robert De Niro is fine as Vito, but it seems odd to see anybody besides Marlon Brando playing the Godfather, which is odd for me to say because I couldn't actually take Brando seriously in the first film. I suppose it's because the actor/part pairing has become so iconic than anybody else trying to do it feels strange.

The cinematography is ok, but it's nothing spectacular or eye catching aside from a few landscape shots of the Italian desert. There are some good storytelling moments, though. For example, at a show in Cuba, the group Michael is with are completely focused on the stage show, thus they're completely in focus even though the composition is telling us that Michael is the subject of the shot. However, Michael is faded in the background, showing his complete disconnect with what's going on around him. There's also a bit in the beginning where Vito and his mother approach the Italian Don, begging for Vito's life. Now, even though Vito's mother is talking to the Don, the over the should shot of the Don is over Vito's shoulder, showing that the conflict is really between Vito and the Don.

There isn't much done with blocking, but there is one great part where it's utilized well. In the scene, Fredo's wife is fooling around with another man. Fredo walks towards screen left to address the problem. We cut to a sot of Michael and one of his soldiers looking in the same direction, the soldier having just come from screen right behind Michael. This shows that they're both looking at, and are planning to address, the same situation: Fredo's out of control wife.

Doors continue to be a major storytelling mechanic. Just like in the first film doors are used to show the separation between the home life and mob life. Whenever Michael is talking about the family business the doors are closed and everybody else in Michael's domestic life, like his wife and sister, wait outside his office.

Summary: The Godfather Part II, in my opinion, is superior to the first film; it has more interesting characters, has greater emotional weight and a haunting ending that's the perfect way to finish the story of Michael Corleone.

A-

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