The Godfather Part II: Review
The Godfather Part II is that rare example of exceptional cinema where the sequel to a great film not only stands as a satisfying story in and of itself, but also adds significantly to the impact of its predecessor.
With its sweeping drama and visual sumptuousness Part II is the ultimate work of a director who is arguably America’s finest living filmmaker. A master at dramatic storytelling (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now), Francis Ford Coppola’s authoritative vision is powerfully represented in every frame of this seminal film. From long still mesmerizing shots of a single image (Michael alone in his study) to vividly dazzling sequences (the Italian street festival) Coppola’s voice is ever present and well defined as it guides the film from beginning to end.
Coppola’s voice was influential from the very beginning stages of production with him co-writing the script with the book’s author, Mario Puzo. Puzo and the director had previously worked on The Godfather together and continued that award winning partnership for the sequel just two years after their first effort (both films received the Academy Award for Best Screenplay). Coppola’s script is a streamlined piece of work that is intentionally paced in tone and dripping with moody atmosphere. Ever the craftsman, there is never a wasted word used when a well constructed image can be used to say so much more than mere dialogue.
For the unmistakable look of the film Coppola once again collaborated with renowned cinematographer, Gordon Willis (Manhattan, All the President’s Men). The cinematography of Part II, as in the prequel, is simply awe inspiring with abundant use of negative space and deep saturated shadows, representing the best of Willis’ career. Although he has yet to receive a competitive Oscar, Willis was bestowed an honorary award by the Academy for lifetime achievement in 2010. No doubt his work on the Godfather films contributed greatly to this well deserved recognition.
With so much said about Coppola’s extraordinary talent one might think the actors are secondary, but in the case of The Godfather Part II it is quite the contrary. Al Pacino achieves the impossible in Part II, giving the audience a deeper and even more meaningful understanding of the character Michael than existed in part one, rightfully earning a nomination for Best Actor of the year (in The Godfather Pacino had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor). And Robert De Niro’s captivating performance as Vito Corleone as a young man not only garnered an Oscar as the year’s Best Supporting Actor but also catapulted the man into superstardom. Neither actor has been referred to with anything less than the sincerest of reverence since their performances in The Godfather Part II.
The second installment of this Homeric ode to the mafia is such a perfectly crafted film, mightily holding its own as a complete and independent tale, that the numeric indicator is inconsequential. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that part two exceeds the quality of part one and deserves the enviable title of Best American Film Ever Made, surpassing The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind. After careful consideration I’m sure others will agree.