In 1974 Francis Ford Coppola release The Godfather Part II which was a continuation of the story of its critically acclaimed predecessor and would eventually go on to spawn a Godfather Part III. The second film in the gangster series focuses Michael Corleone, the son of Vito Corleone(played by Al Pacino), who has now risen to power in the shoes of his father to help guide and grow the Corleone crime family in the new Post-World War II era.
As such the family has now left New York City and moved to Nevada where they reside on a guarded ranch right next to Lake Tahoe. The film opens with a party at the ranch for Michael’s son’s First Communion, and introduces a few new players as well as familiar old faces from the original film. It quickly grows dark with an assassination attempt on Michael’s life by gunmen from an unknown rival who use sub-machine guns to shoot up Michael’s bedroom. From here Coppola launches his audience into parallel story of young Vito in Italy, showing the violent life that he was a part of in “Old World” Europe. After assassinating the local mafia boss he comes to Ellis Island, where he quickly integrates into the American street life of New York City.
Coppola then switches between Michael and Vito, showing in contrast their rise to power, how they both came to solidify their positions, and their general acceptance and or destruction of all rivals. The film then closes out with the death Michael enemies, including Hyman Roth (played by Lee Strasberg), as he sheds his last inch of humanity to gain ultimate power overall. The last scene has him watching as his brother, Fredo (played by John Cazale), is executed quietly on a boat at the family’s ranch with the traditional Godfather theme playing into the credits. Yet within this basic tale there are moments of heart-break, brutality, moments of choice, and ethical dilemmas that all define this as another excellent Francis Ford Coppola film production.
Of all the movies in the Godfather series, The Godfather Part II is certainly the most impressive of them all in how the basic plot switches between two storylines that are separate, yet congruent in how they approach each character. The main plot follows Michael Corleone rise to power in the family following the death of his late father; Vito Corleone. The sub plot follows Vito Corleone in his early days and how he built his criminal empire from the bottom up. Both these stories mirror each other and allow the viewer to understand how the son has followed in the father’s footsteps; dealing with the changes of his time. Both show how each set aside their traditional values in order to gain power and dominate their criminal trade. Vito deals with a vicious local mafia boss in his Italian hometown before coming to Ellis Island, and then moving into New York City. From here he deals with street criminals who are intent of taking advantage of him and his friends. He personally assassinates one of these individuals, and then moves to take control of the local gang within the area and solidify his position. Michael fights off assassins who come to kill him and his family, as well as governmental probes into his business dealings which hope to reveal him for the criminal that he is. These two stories not only fill in the grey spots from the previous film but also give the dramatic comparison of how father and son are not so different in their rise to power. Thus Coppola’s message is that history repeats itself, if only in the world of the gangster.
It is interesting to note that Part II is a much darker and sinister movie than the original. The first film opened with Vito in power, and then showed how he grew evermore powerful, with a gangster code of honor that guided his actions. The film is lively, with traditional gangster fights, and clashes of personalities and music in the background. Michael on the other hand is torn apart from the beginning of the film. As time progresses Michael loses much of his kindness, compassion, and indeed humanity as the world closes in on him. Thus the saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely is true in the sense that Michael is less human when he watches the execution of his brother from his house on Lake Tahoe. Coppola makes this gut-wrenching impact to continue the sinister story of the gangster family in order to demonstrate what sometimes occurs to a man when he is forced to takes extreme measures to protect him.
Due to the stories more open plot-line the film takes its audience on a tour of the criminal empire that ranges from Nevada to Cuba. Along the way they visit Washington D.C, Sicily, Miami, and revisit New York City within the travels of young Vito. They stop at the Miami International Airport, Havana, and even Ellis Island from back in the early 19th century.
However everything is not all sunshine and flowers with this great drama, as it has received its fair share of criticism. For instance film critic Christopher Null, founder of filmcritic.com, made the example of the Michael’s congressional hearing where the, “…investigation also drone on too long, and feel awfully C-Spanish (Null 1).”The fact that the scene seemed to have taken forever destroys the momentum of the film as it picks up during the politics between the different gangster groups. Critic Roger Ebert shoots the idea that Coppola had already lowered the movie’s standing because of a bad plot and lots of unrelated material. He states, “…a mass of undisciplined material and handicapped by plot construction that prevents the story from ever really building (Ebert 2).” Therefore the movie is not without its criticisms, but generally most critics can agree that despite its short comings the Godfather Part II is still a masterpiece of gangster cinema.
In conclusion this film is recommended to any tradition movie enthusiasts looking for a good drama movie. It’s dark and deadly plot bring to light the dark side of the criminal world, and its intricate twists of the story to manipulate the drama unfolding is desired by all. Even by modern standards it is still among the best films ever produced in America, and made records sales when it was re-released in 2008 on DVD and Blue-Ray format.