The Godfather: Part II (1974) – There are those who say the sequel is better than the 1972 original. I don’t know about all that (I’m incredibly fond of the first Godfather), but Part II is every bit as good as the film that preceded it. Simultaneously a prequel and a sequel, Part II juxtaposes the rise of immigrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) with the tenure of his son Michael (Al Pacino) as he contends with moves for legitimacy in the Vegas casino industry, an assassination attempt facilitated by a betrayal from within, a Congressional inquisition, and a smiling enemy (Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth) attempting to slide a knife in his back. For my money, the Vito chapters are stronger, although I appreciate the Michael scenes more each time I see the film for two reasons: one, I enjoy the difficult plot the more I understand it and recognize the subtlety; and two, Al Pacino’s performance here is likely his all-time career best. (Take, for example, the exchange between him and his wife when Kay tells him she’s taking the children.) As before, the supporting cast excels: Robert Duvall’s work as Tom Hagen reminds me how empty that part of Part III felt, De Niro and Bruno Kirby are spot-on as Vito and Clemenza without feeling slavishly bound to the original actors, and John Cazale absolutely steals the movie as the malleable brother Fredo. In fact, Pacino and Cazale have what I maintain is the best scene of the film, a boathouse confessional which should have netted an Oscar for both; theirs is the relationship which anchors the film, for which I find myself, as I get older, returning to the film more than for the Vito plotline, which is amusing and entertaining, a lighter counterpart to the heavy burden with which Michael finds himself saddled by the film’s end. The first film needed no sequel, but the second proved how much more could be added to the saga; having only seen the third installment once, I’ll be curious to see if it transcends this film’s sense of completion.
Stay tuned for the final Godfather review. But for now, that does it for this week’s edition of “Monday at the Movies.” We’ll see you here next week!