We move on now to the second film in Coppola’s trilogy as we discover if The Godfather Part II is truly better than its predecessor.
The second Godfather film also opens with a religious ceremony as Michael’s son Anthony has his first communion while the celebrations see a much-changed Connie who has now abandoned her children in favour of a party-girl lifestyle. At the same time Michael is unsure who to trust as he plays both Jewish businessman Hyman Roth and family friend Frank Pentangeli. Both make assassination attempts on Michael’s life and he later discovers that Fredo had an involvement in one of them. Michael is later arrested as part of ongoing look into the world of organised crime. Though at first Michael gives a statement damming the trial, he later worries after Pentangeli reappears to give evidence. Luckily, Michael and Tom find a way to bring Pentangeli’s brother over to America meaning that Frank changes his statement. As the film reaches its final third Michael gradually finds himself alone as Kay leaves him and Fredo is killed on his orders. The film’s end sees Michael sitting alone, having won the battle against Roth and Pentangeli, but lost those that he used to care about. Running parallel to Michael’s story in The Godfather Part II is that of Vito’s eventual rise to power from poor Sicilian immigrant to respected mob boss. Initially talked into partaking in petty crimes, Vito finds power after he kills off a respected crime lord. During his ascension, Vito is given the power to avenge his father’s death and ultimately finds himself as the most feared and respected member of his community.
The parallel stories in The Godfather Part II are both equally engaging and really make the sequel a more impressive film from a storytelling point of view. Indeed, I found it rather brave that the majority of the scenes involving Vito’s story are entirely spoken in Italian and I wonder if today’s audience would cope with an American film that contained as many subtitled film. At the same time I can’t honestly say that I was as engaged in Michael’s story here as I was in the original movie and at times this part of the film descended into more of a generic crime film. However, I found the set pieces more impressive and the film’s final third was laced with plenty of tragedy namely Fredo’s death which was beautifully played as was the scene in which Kay revealed that she’d had an abortion. Just as with the first film, The Godfather Part II benefits from having a strong ensemble cast. The biggest standout in the sequel is Robert De Niro who won his first Oscar for playing the young Vito Corleone. With James Caan and Marlon Brando both gone, other members of the original cast shone brighter here most notably Diane Keaton and John Cazale. Cazale in particular got to flesh out his character of middle brother Fredo Corleone, who could never live up to the reputation of his other siblings. Additionally great here was the costume and set design especially in the earlier scenes as Vito’s transformation into The Godfather figure is outlined by his increasingly lavish attire. A final interesting note is that Nina Rota’s trademark score, which was disqualified from contention the first time around, won the Oscar even though it was eerily similar.
Overall it’s hard to say if The Godfather Part II bests The Godfather in terms of quality. The sequel definitely has the great prequel element however the modern day story is a bit more lacklustre. The first film is better paced but doesn’t have as intriguing a plot as the evolution of Vito Corleone. Overall I would say both films were more than deserving of the Best Picture award but, if pushed, I would say that the original just outweighs the sequel but feel free to correct me.