The Godfather: Part II (1974) (R)

"Not with this Sicilian thing that's been going on..."
Francis Ford Coppola has said that he wasn't keen on the idea of a sequel to "The Godfather" but screenwriter (and novelist) Mario Puzo came to him with the it is said. Whether or not that's true, it would make sense because "The Godfather: Part II" is by no means a true sequel. It is more of both a follow-up and a prequel to the original movie, providing us with the story of Vito Corleone before he came to America and the story of Michael, after he assumes power as the head of the family.
"Part II" begins after the turn of the century in Sicily, where Vito Andolini has survived as the last remaining male in his family. After his father insulted a Mafia boss, he was killed and then he brother vowed vengeance and was also murdered. Vito's mother tries to reason with the boss, but he doesn't hear her pleas. Vito escapes barely and travels to America and starts a family.
Meanwhile Michael (Al Pacino) is struggling with the inner workings of his new family. Now that the business has moved to Las Vegas and enveloped the casino and gambling of the local cities, Michael sits tall as one of the most powerful men in all the country; but does that buy him any friends? In the most famous moment from the film, Michael says "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" and by all rights it seems like he takes his own advice. The closest people to him are all evil and he is oblivious when loved ones turn on him...maybe because he didn't have them under scrutiny.
Michael warps into someone bitter by the time the movie is over, someone who is hell-bent on vengeance and someone who believes in his father's way of viewing the world. Considering that "Part II" is the longest of the "Godfather" movies, it's also surprising that this film doesn't feel nearly as long as the first one did.
"Part II" marries the past and the present and while there really is no parallel between the two (unless you can somehow construct the character progressions of Vito and Michael as unanimous, which I don't think you could) yet the interest remains from each story as we jump back and forth.
Coppola has more deaths, more oranges, and more Italian in "Part II" which makes for an all-around better film. Does it at sometimes resemble pulp fiction? Perhaps, and not in a good way. There is something a little stereotypical about the way that Coppola dances his characters around, but for the film time in the franchise, they actually feel human.
Maybe it's the omission of the Sonny-like characters that bring around this genuine feeling of humans stuck in a world out of their control. Or maybe it's the way that the script constantly throws something at Michael, just to watch him dodge. This man is not his father's son, though he desperately wants to be.
Michael screws up, lots of times, but has enough chutzpah to keep going. Maybe he's just hell-bent on it.
Vito (Robert De Niro) begins to understand that there will always be a mob boss in New York and he elects himself one after dealing with a prior. His ascension to power is honest and rather amusing, something the film plays these scenes out for comedic effects, which doesn't always work.
For me, the mobster epic doesn't really exist purely. If you look at "Once Upon a Time in America" or "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" or a number of other movies, I have issues with each one. They stereotype (maybe accurately, maybe not), they are distant, and they take too long. "Part II" alleviates some of those concerns because we are meant to sympathize with the characters more. We feel for Michael because of Kay (Diane Keaton) and his brother Fredo (John Cazale, who always played opposite Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon"). Michael's plight is not entirely interesting; but it does prove better watching than the first.
What can I say? It's kind of boring too.

Score: ★★★

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