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Paramount Studios presents
The Godfather Part II (1974)

"I don't want to kill everyone, Tom. Just my enemies."
- Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)

Review By: Jesse Shanks  
Published: October 09, 2001

Stars: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale
Other Stars: Mariana Hill, Lee Strasberg
Director: Francis Ford Coppola

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language
Run Time: 03h:20m:12s
Release Date: October 09, 2001
UPC: 097361564746
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ B

DVD Review

Actually, in my mind, this film, with its separate parallel stories, is "The Godfather Part I and Part III," with the original film really being "Part II" and the final film coming in as "Part IV." Francis Ford Coppola notes that in working on The Godfather Saga (the version in which he cut the film into a chronological sequence), he found he personally prefers the parallel story structure of the original release. Although I enjoy each story on its own, I agree. The young Don Vito sequences do not really hold up as a complete story on their own but, in combination with the story of Michael Corleone, add a potent sub-layering to the depiction of the dangers of absolute power and corruption of the soul.

In this movie, Coppola had two things he lacked in the first (and third): time to make the film he envisioned, as well as co-operation from both the studio and his own crew. This shows in the intricate execution of the parallel stories and the gorgeous hues and tones of the young Vito sections that are contraposed with the harsh brittle Michael segments. This is perhaps Coppola's finest film, with all the literate depth of his finest writing and a feel for the material that is the major reason that this film equals, if not surpasses, the original. The Godfather Part II breaks free from the claustrophobia of the first film to encompass a crime empire that reaches from New York to Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe and ultimately to pre-revolutionary Cuba.

The central figure of this film—and the overall Godfather series—is Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), as he stands astride his underworld empire like a colossus. In the first film, he promises his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), that he is not a man like his father, Don Vito Corleone, and that within 5 years the Family would be 100% legitimate. Here, she sardonically notes that seven years have passed and the family business still features the hallmarks of organized crime, embodied in the person of Frankie Pentageli (Michael V. Gazzo), an old school mobster who has assumed command of the Corleone interests in New York. Even though Michael assures her that he is trying, we find out quickly that this is a total lie. First, in the scene where he deals with a corrupt Senator (G.D. Spradlin in a fine portrayal), we see Michael at his most chilling in the execution of his power when the Senator thinks he can put the squeeze on the Corleones over a gaming license. Ultimately, Michael frames the senator for murder and blackmails him into providing the license. We see Michael particpating in a conspiracy with old-time mobster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) to install casino gambling in a politically corrupt Cuba, in order to provide a haven for their illegal activities, out of reach of Senate inquiries and FBI investigations. Michael is a man who exults in his power and position as master of the universe that he controls. He has become the puppetmaster of the big shots that his father refused to serve. But powerful men have powerful enemies and after an attempt on his life, Michael is thrown into elaborate machinations to protect himself and his family.

Parallel to this tale is the story of Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) that begins with him witnessing the death of his father, older brother and, most cruelly, his mother, before his very young eyes. Friends help him to escape and we see some lovely scenes of immigrants arriving in America, full of the hope and promise of the New World. Vito grows up and struggles as a grocery clerk with a wife and baby, until he meets a worldly young man, Peter Clemenza (Bruno Kirby), who has learned a different way of making a living—outside the rule of law. As we see Vito embrace a life of crime, we can just hear the aging Don of the first film telling his heir, Michael, that he makes no apologies for his life, he was just taking care of his family. Vito soon surpasses his friend Clemenza and new partner Tessio (John Aprea) and assumes the leadership of their group with his cold-blooded willingness to kill.

The two stories unfold simultaneously and we see, in retrospect, young Vito growing in power and family, as we see Michael, more recently, struggle to hold on to that power and keep from losing his family. The story told in The Godfather movies has often been compared to Shakespearean tragedy and in some ways it lives up to the reference. However, the end of Part II fails to deliver on the Aristotelian definition of tragedy; Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, more than 2,000 years ago, that true tragedy engenders in the viewer a feeling of catharsis. Catharsis is defined as a combination of terror and pity that produce an emotional release. I think it would not be a spoiler to say that Michael Corleone lives a the end of this film because Al Pacino reprises the role in Part III. For this to truly rise to level of classic drama, The Godfather Part II should have ended with the death of Michael Corleone. And, to maintain parallelism with the story of young Vito, his death should have been the result of a past crime... perhaps the murder of Moe Green, a crime committed in first movie that is referred to in this film. Michael does not atone for the great evil that he has fostered on this planet and plagued society with in his lifetime. Not only would this have been a more powerful ending for Part II, but it would have allowed The Godfather Part III to dispense with the character of Michael and focus on the next generation inheritors of the Corleone legacy, personified by Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Santino (Vito's eldest son) and Michael's own children, Mary and Anthony.

Another flaw in The Godfather Part II is the overriding lack of passion in both stories comprising the film. There is no spark of emotion that is personified by the volcanic temper of Santino or the deep abiding feeling that is apparent in the Vito Corleone of the first film. Michael is a cold fish indeed and, as the most important character, makes for a cold movie. Even in the scenes of great drama, Michael's feelings seem calculated and unreal. Equally, there is so little intensity in the character of the young Vito that it is difficult to connect this man to the emotionally powerful figure of the Don we meet in the original Godfather film. Young Vito is as cold-blooded as they come and this lends a sterile quality to this film in comparison to its intense predecessor. Even the vaunted, violent sequences come off almost antiseptically, in comparison with the first film, with only one notable exception.

But, as the Don said in the first movie, "that aside," this is a powerful motion picture with awesome production values, incredible acting, inspired direction and riveting action. The story is complex and improves with multiple viewings. Pacino got an Oscar® nod and DeNiro brought home the statuette for Best Supporting Actor. The Godfather Part II became the first—and to-date, the only—movie sequel to win the Best Picture award. Robert Duvall portrays the adopted brother, Tom Hagen, and his performance is wonderful as the apparently honorable man with no compunction against murder or blackmail if it serves the Family's aims. John Cazale reprises his role as the middle brother, Fredo and manages to add some powerful, emotional color to the cold-hearted proceedings. Lee Strasberg is simply amazing in his unselfconscious essay of the Jewish gangster who apprenticed with Don Vito and now looks to hoodwink his son.

There is no doubt that this is one of the great films of American cinema and the height of its genre. It is a pleasure to watch despite the violent, evil nature of the story being told. Few movies have left me with the feeling that I have lived an entire lifetime by the time I left the theater like this one did. The DVD gives me the chance to visit that frightening world and vicariously delight in the indelible sense of the era and the personality that the underworld of the Corleones represents. It is an offer that just can't be refused.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The Godfather Part II is the best of three transfers in this set, certainly because of the better quality source material. There are occasional flaws in the original material, but I have never seen this film look better. The warm sepia-like hues of the young Vito sequences contrasts markedly with the brighter, more brittle coloration of the Michael Corleone scenes and Godon Willis' cinematography is at its best. There is a slight graininess and some fading, but overall a very acceptable transfer. This movie just has a visual richness that few films can match (particularly The Godfather Part III) and this transfer will suffice very well until the restoration teams take over and give it a good going through, hopefully sometime in the future.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound remix is very good and provides a fine listening experience. Allthough most of the sound action is up front, I heard some nice ambient sound. The music elements are nicely used and the sound effects provide an excellent immediacy. I detected no noise or hiss to distract the listener. The sound design of The Godfather trilogy is under-rated and these DVDs give a nice opportunity to explore the effort involved, especially in a film as lengthy as this. As with the others in the collection, it is surprising , given the international appeal of this film and its status as a bonafide cinematic classic, that only English subtitles are provided. A French dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Francis Ford Coppola
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The menu system features alternating scenes from the film and is very simple with play, setup and scene selection buttons that feature the puppet strings symbol as a highlight. As with the other films in the set, I am less than pleased that the movie is indexed with only 30 cues. Each chapter is much too long, making it difficult to navigate to desired sequences.

Francis Ford Coppola provides a lengthy commentary to this lengthy film. He details his pleasure in working on this installment of the series and the challenges of the production. A valuable resource for fans of The Godfather series; with many reminiscences about the personalities involved, this is a very personal supplement that adds greatly to the enjoyment of the film.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Few motion pictures are accorded the label of "masterpiece," much less a sequel to a movie that already bears that honor. The Godfather Part II is masterful cinema with its unique, multi-layered story structure and some of the finest acting ever committed to film. This is a highly recommended addition to any collection of DVDs for its entertainment value and potent, thoughtful tale of the blackest of human souls.

 


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