The Godfather: Part II (review)

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Give Me Your Violent, Your Fierce

Rare is the sequel that equals the film that spawned it. The Empire Strikes Back. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Add to that short list The Godfather: Part II, the only sequel ever to win Best Picture.

Part II continues the sweeping family epic that ironically juxtaposes quintessential American values with the extremely realistic violence and criminal mentality of mobsters. The Godfather: Part II, even more so than its predecessor, tells a story of immigrants in America that — minus the felonies and murders — many of us might recognize as tales our grandparents told.

The film opens as nine-year-old Vito Andolini, orphaned by a family feud back in Italy, arrives alone in America in 1901. He gazes at the Statue of Liberty as his ship enters New York harbor and navigates the confusion of Ellis Island — where he is renamed Vito Corleone (for his home village) — on his own. Cut to his son, Michael (Al Pacino, just as brilliant as the first time around), presiding over the family from its base in Lake Tahoe, 1958. Michael has a powerful US senator in his pocket and is looking to expand the family business, perhaps into prerevolutionary Cuba, perhaps in a merger with Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). The mob may be “bigger than US Steel,” according to Roth, but things are starting to fall apart for the Corleones. The Godfather: Part II interweaves these two stories: Vito as a young man (an incredible Robert De Niro) building his underworld empire in the Italian ghettos of New York City, post WWI, and his son Michael desperately trying to keep it together, 40 years later.

The open society that drew people from all over the world to America also allows crime to flourish, especially when the criminals are as enterprising and entrepreneurial as the Corleones, who demonstrate just the kind of sturdy self-reliance our country was built on. Okay, so they take it a little too far. But their story is pretty much the story of America in the 20th century.

Oscars Best Picture 1974
AFI 100 (1998 list): #32

unforgettable movie moment:
Vito, having returned to Italy for a visit as a young man, calls upon the don who killed his entire family.

previous Best Picture:
1973: The Sting
next Best Picture:
1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

previous AFI 100 film:
31: The Maltese Falcon
next AFI 100 film:
33: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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Sun, Aug 08, 2010 7:18pm

I was reading through your discussion of The Godfather Part II, and while I found the review perceptive (as always) I must disagree with your choice of memorable movie moment. You picked Vito’s return to kill the don who murdered his family. A powerful scene certainly, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the most amazing moment in the movie. I’m referring of course to the New Year’s party in Cuba when Michael gives Fredo the “kiss of death.” That moment conveys so much in the movie, boiling down the instant when Michael chose to dispense with his loyalty to family in favor of his loyalty to The Family.

[originally posted to 02.28.99]

Tue, Mar 15, 2016 10:00am

For me, the last scene of Godfather 2 was unforgettable.

Mon, Sep 27, 2021 9:44pm

For me, the unforgettable moment here begins when the bitter Connie relents and opens up to Michael on Fredo’s behalf – and segues via musical crescendo to Michael’s reconciliation with Fredo and their embrace – and ends with Michael’s glance to Al Neri – is this the real climax of the film? This is the moment that’s still reverberating in the final surprise flashback and that distant look in Michael’s eyes in the film’s last shot – as I see it, in this moment he realizes he’s damned –

This sequence has a worthy successor in The Yards – as bitter Charlize Theron entreats stepfather James Caan on behalf of fugitive Mark Wahlberg – director James Gray is one of the few who can capture this tragic realism of vintage Coppola, swathed in Howard Shore’s stately music – a classic scene in another classic film