86 of 94 people found the following review helpful
An extraordinary sequel to a great American classic film
, June 3, 2003
This review is from: The Godfather, Part II [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Although not quite as powerful or as unified as the original, THE GODFATHER II lays claim to possibly being the greatest sequel ever made. The film focuses on the twin stories of Michael Corleone's attempt to consolidate his power as Godfather of the Corleone family by, as he puts it, killing all his enemies. The latter primarily include a Jewish gangster who was a former associate of his father as a young man, a former associate who turns government witness, and his brother Fredo, who betrays Michael because he felt passed over and because in betraying Michael there would be "something in it for me." The other story told is that of the youth and young manhood of Vito Corleone, magnificently portrayed by Robert De Niro in one of his greatest performances, performing his role in Italian and doing a masterful job of mimicking Marlon Brando's intonations from the previous film. The story takes him from his earlier childhood, with the death of all the members of his family in Sicily, to his immigration to the United States, and eventual involvement in a life of organized crime.
Much of the power of the second film comes from the contrast between the two stories. As Vito Corleone grows in power, he also grows as a family man, in both the sense of a father with children and a wife and in the extended sense in his role as Godfather. He becomes the center of a community, drawing others around him. But the other story, of the decay of all that Vito had built up through the leadership of Michael, betrays all the realities undergirding the delusions riddling Vito Corleone's Family. The rot and decay that characterizes Michael's reign are shown as the natural and inescapable result of the greed that drove the lives of those in the crime organization. Nonetheless, the contrast between Vito, surrounded by friends and family and associates, and Michael, killing friends and associates and even family members, alienating even his most loyal friends, sitting inside his armed compound alone couldn't be starker. There is a reverse symmetry between the two stories: Vito starts off alone and ends surrounded by family and friends, while Michael starts off surrounded with family and friends, and ends up alone. This is symbolized perfectly in the final scene in the film, in a flashback to December 7, 1941, when Michael reveals to his brothers that he has enlisted in the Army. They hear their father arrive elsewhere in the house and rush off to meet him, only Michael sitting at the table alone as the film ends.
As with the first film, the acting is beyond reproach. As great as Al Pacino has been in his career, Michael Corleone has been his greatest achievement. He and Robert De Niro excel in the two key roles in the film. Lee Strasberg came out of retirement to play Hyman Roth, and he was extraordinarily effective in the role. The late, great John Cazale was marvelously timid as the dim, confused, and indecisive Fredo, who both adored and resented his brother Michael. Michael Gazzo is unforgettable as Frank Pentangeli, who thinks he has been betrayed by Michael and turns government witness, and received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance (he was beaten out by Robert De Niro), as was Lee Strasberg. Robert Duvall returns as Tom Hagen, who is more loyal to Michael than anyone else but who Michael distrusts nonetheless. Bizarrely, Al Pacino lost out to Art Carney, who was excellent in the rather minor film HARRY AND TONTO. It is hard today to understand how Pacino failed to win.
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