Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Premise: The film cuts between the rise of a young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) as an Italian immigrant in New York and the rising power of his son Michael (Al Pacino) after taking his father’s place.
What Works: The Godfather: Part II is unique as a sequel in that it does not just continue the story of the original film but ambitiously reinvents it, making the audience reconsider everything they had assumed to know about the Corleone family. Cutting between the rise of the father and the advancement of the son, the film deepens both of the original picture’s tracks: the immigrant narrative and the capitalist story. In the immigrant narrative, the film takes the ironic twist on the American Dream of the first film and goes further with it, as Vito displays traits like ingenuity, ambition, and resourcefulness, which are traditionally defined as positive American attributes, and then uses them to build the foundations of a criminal empire. At the same time the film also shows Vito building his family and this puts something vital at stake. And, like the original film, it centers the film’s grand scope inside an intimate family context. Vito’s story is cross cut with Michael’s management and expansion of the family business. The first film turned Michael from an ambitious and idealistic young man into a cold and Machiavellian leader. In Part II, Michael’s ambition to spread the Corleone brand threatens the internal structure of the family as well as aggravating rivals and it sets Michael and his family on a crash course that threatens to destroy them. This is tied back to the very foundation of the family upon a criminal background and displays a further critique of the American Dream gone awry. As a New Hollywood film, The Godfather: Part II is unique in that it is a sequel, which was rare among most of these filmmakers and their work in this time. But even by the standards of sequels, Part II goes in entirely different and unexpected directions and in some ways produces a picture that exceeds the original film.
What Doesn’t: The only respect in which Part II stumbles is in its pacing. This is a very slow picture and although every scene is there for a good reason, it is nonetheless a picture that requires a lot of patience from its viewers and may not translate as well to a contemporary audience.
DVD extras: The most recent release of The Godfather: Part II is “The Coppola Restoration” which makes minor adjustments to the picture and cleans up the quality, making it the best presentation of the film to date. The “Coppola Restoration” box set includes all three Godfather films, a documentary, additional scenes, featurettes, trailers, profiles on the filmmakers, photo galleries, and storyboards.
Bottom Line: The Godfather: Part II is a sequel that is unlike almost any other follow up to a major Hollywood film. It defies nearly every convention of a sequel while telling its own story and deepening the audience’s understanding of the first picture.
Episode: #213 (November 9, 2008)