Godfather: Part II (1974)
Synopsis & Analysis
The film essentially provides the viewer with further details about the lives of the characters introduced in the first movie. We are thus shown what becomes of Michael after he takes control of the Corleone empire and how his father Vito (Robert De Niro) began his career in organized crime. These two narratives are intertwined but, unfortunately, do not really parallel one another. The story of Vito's youth would have been better included in the first film. Here it adds little to the drama of Michael's life as the head of a Mafia family and, instead, distracts the viewer and dilutes the emotive impact of that narrative. Had this strand been introduced in the original Godfather, Michael's rise in the world of organized crime could have paralleled his father's rise and their very different perspectives and reactions emphasized. Michael's story in The Godfather: Part II, however, is very different from that told of his father, and the two do not complement one another.
The central narrative of the film, that centering on Michael, is, nevertheless, interesting throughout. The viewer is consistently entertained by the various machinations and acts of brutality with which the movie is filled, from Michael's involvement in a plot to extend the influence of American organized crime to Battista's Cuba to his running of his expanding concerns in Las Vegas to his conflicts with some of his lieutenants, his brother Fredo, and his estranged wife.
Fortunately, even though the film's narrative is flawed, the performances of the actors are universally good. In fact, they make the movie far more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. Al Pacino's portrayal of Michael Corleone is truly impressive and wonderfully understated. The circumstances and necessities of his life have changed him from the conflicted figure seen in the greater part of The Godfather into the more vicious and calculating person who emerges at the end of that movie, but Pacino's skill prevents him from ever degenerating into a simple, cartoonish villain. The supporting cast is also generally accomplished. Robert Duvall's performance as Michael's attorney and Lee Strassburg's as Hyman Roth, a powerful gangster from Florida, are both excellent.
The Godfather: Part II is a well made film. The acting is good; the production values are good; the cinematography is good. None are exceptional, however. The film excels in its conventional virtues, but it never moves beyond the ordinary.
Review by Keith Allen
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