sam kyker’s review published on Letterboxd:
“My father taught me many things here - he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
For my 400th film on Letterboxd, rather then sit through another meaningless film and waste two hours of my life, I wanted to tackle the beast and train the dragon by watching the greatest sequel in history, The Godfather Part II. Boy did I make the right call. Even though it was so close, yet somehow so far away from out shining the original, I didn't care. It was still one of my favorite movies of all-time. Although it is considered by many as the greatest sequel of all-time (let alone the only sequel to win Best Picture), the first Godfather remained king over the second. I'm a little perplexed about why people think this one was better than the original. Everything great about it was greater in Part I. But that's my opinion and I know that it isn't the only one out there. Even though I preferred the first, the second gave it a run for its money. With its stellar acting (especially from Pacino and DeNiro), incredible lighting, and beautiful story arc, this film never ceased to amaze me.
Before I delve into the intricate details and plot of The Godfather Part II I need to relieve some of my negative feelings for this film. Please don't assume that my initial take on The Godfather Part II was negative, far from it. Actually, this film was fantastic! But there are some minor issues in it, which I think separate the original from the sequel. For starters I think the half before the intermission lacked the intensity the prior film had (maybe I just miss Brando). Fortunately, as soon as the screen faded away from the intermission text I could feel the atmosphere building in tension and anticipation.
Sadly, there just aren't enough movies like the first two Godfather flicks. The usage of lighting (or lack there of) is really something. Every shadow on Pacino's face and under his eyes casts his character deeper and deeper into darkness (figuratively and literally speaking).
Although The Godfather Part II is missing Marlon Brando, the acting in this film is exquisite. Every actor was cast to perfection, none more so than Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone. Even John Cazale as Fredo Corleone managed to steal the spotlight a little. His portrayal of an older brother with a younger brother persona really sold this sequel.
The intertwining of Vito's and Michael's lives throughout Part II, from the beginnings of the Corleone dynasty to its disastrous schism, was effortless. It really works well in the film's favor, because the two tales are meant to reflect and compliment each other. You really can't have one without the other to fully understand the bigger message about Michael's character. The striking similarities between the father's and the son's interactions and personalities combined with their tragic differences, provided the film steadiness and a light when the path became dark. Every time a flashback scene ended it made you think how Michael's choices were influenced by his father's. Because of his obsession with following in his father's footsteps, Michael is always remembering and constantly asking the question, "What would Vito do?". Yet Michael is not Vito, and as much as Vito considered favors and trust to get things done, Michael ends up relying mostly on betrayal, murder, and bribery. Worse yet, when he begins realizing his situation and the path he is headed down, he doesn't do anything to stop it.
Watching Michael's relationship with his wife, Kay, and his brother, Fredo, collapse throughout the film is one of the most heart wrenching moments in cinema. Whether it's the news his wife gives him about his son or the hug between Michael and Fredo near the end, it's the most devastated I've felt for a non-fictional family on screen. Also, that final scene of the whole Corleone family is a goodie. Seeing Michael like that, it just rips your heart in two. From a young, innocent, Army soldier, to a stone-cold killer.
The scenes about the rise of Vito are my favorite moments in the film. The story arc and perplexity of Michael Corleone's character is one of the greatest ever. Each shot is beautiful and the lighting always stands out. The score is once more, breathtaking to say the least and the way that each character was treated with the utmost care, is mindblowing. What a character. What a movie. With a performance like that from Al, I'm going to have to man up and brave The Godfather Part III.