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THE GODFATHER PART II

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shira, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill, Lee Strasberg
Director:  Francis Ford Coppola
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Length:  200 Minutes
Release Date:  October 9, 2001

"Tom, I'm surprised at you.  If one thing in life is certain...if history has taught us anything...it's that you can kill anyone."

Film ****

If there was one drawback to the critical and cultural success of The Godfather Part II, it's that the film became Hollywood's Holy Grail for sequels...argue with any producer that sequels rarely live up to the quality of original productions and usually weaken rather than strengthen established story lines and characters, and they inevitably point to Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar winning triumph as proof it can be done.  As Michael Corleone would say, "Nothing is impossible."  As his top man would clarify, though, "Difficult, but not impossible."  The fact that no other sequel has come close to striking gold twice the way this movie did in over a quarter of a century is proof enough.

Part II is such a beautiful, brilliant film in its own right that I even hate to use a stigmatized word like "sequel" to describe it...but that's what it is, even down to Coppola's personal insistence that the picture bear no other title than the very simple, very distinct The Godfather Part II.

It's a sequel with merit because both Coppola and author/co-screenwriter Mario Puzo had more story that was worth telling.  We left Michael Corleone (Pacino) at the end of the first movie having traded in all his once youthful ideals and ambitions to take his place on the throne, so to speak.  In the second part, we follow not one, but two stories that play against each other in such paralleled harmony that no medium outside of motion pictures could have given it the depth of drama, scope and intelligence that it required.

Story one follows Michael leading his family and business into some changing times.  He faces new challenges, new decisions, new opportunities, and new heartaches in the 1950s.  He tastes the bitter seeds of inter-family betrayal and the failure to keep his own family together, with wife Kay (Keaton) growing more and more apart from him.  He had promised her in the first part that the Corleone family would be legitimate within five years...the fact that the second part takes up seven years later is one indication that Michael has lost his original way.

The second story actually flashes back to the rise of young Vito Corleone (De Niro, stepping comfortably into the role made famous by Marlon Brando as an older man).  Vito, as a boy, escapes to America to flee from a Don who murdered his entire family.  When he reaches the shores of the United States, the Statue of Liberty looms large and welcoming...yet we know we are about to follow Vito's path down the dark side of the American dream.

The narrative juxtaposition between the story lines lends emotion and thoughtfulness to both.  Seeing Michael's modern feud with his older brother Fredo (Cazale) is more haunting next to images of them as children under the protection of their father Vito.  Vito's guts, determination and eventual successes almost seem to create a legacy that Michael can't quite live up to, even though no one expects him to try.  It is something for the audience to consider; not the characters.

The Godfather Part II takes us on a historical journey through some of the key moments of the American underworld, including family business that goes terribly awry in Cuba with the outbreak of the revolution, the Senatorial hearings that would try to bring down the Mafia's most powerful families, and again, in a flashback, a consideration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor (which happens to coincide with Vito's birthday) that leads to young Michael's decision to leave college and join the Marines.  His adopted brother, Tom Hagen (Duvall), chastises him.  "Your father has big plans for you," he says. "Many times, I've talked to him about your future."  "I have my own plans for my future," Michael replies. 

The flash forward to the final shot of a sober and sad Michael is the very image of the best laid plans gone to waste.

Video ****

I found Part II to be an improvement on the already impressive transfer for the first installment...again, with Gordon Willis' distinct, nostalgic photography, the demands were great, but this anamorphic transfer rises to the challenge with even more beautiful results.  There is much less interference with print age mementos, and the wider array of locations make for more colorful scenes (the Cuba sequences are quite stunning), and Willis' camera captures a more natural looking style, with better detail and image integrity than before.  An impressive offering!

Audio ***

As with the first film, the audio track makes good use of 5.1 surround capabilities, especially in several key crowd scenes, but the dialogue in the center channel sounds a bit thin from time to time, and without dynamic range.  Pacino's voice can be a powerful instrument, but when he yells, the level flatlines, which is not the end of the world, but a problem worth noting in an otherwise lively and well-constructed mix.

Features (see The Godfather DVD Collection)

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