The Godfather Part II (1974)

Francis Ford Coppola
1974 • 200 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States

Principal Cast:  Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro Talia Shire, Morganna King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Michael V Gazzo
Screenplay:  Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Producer:  Francis Ford Coppola
Cinematography:  Gordon Willis

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner:  Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Robert De Niro 
Winner:  Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Winner:  Best Director - Francis Ford Coppola 
Winner:  Best Music, Original Dramatic Score - Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola 
Winner:  Best Picture - Francis Ford Coppola, Gray Frederickson, Fred Roos 
Winner:  Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material - Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo 
Nominated:  Best Actor in a Leading Role - Al Pacino 
Nominated:  Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Michael V. Gazzo 
Nominated:  Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Lee Strasberg 
Nominated:  Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Talia Shire 
Nominated:  Best Costume Design - Theadora Van Runkle 

American Film Institute
#32 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies
#11 Villain - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains - Michael Corleone
#58 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes - "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
#32 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - 10th Anniversary Edition
#3 - AFI's Top 10 Gangster Films

BAFTA Awards

Winner:  Best Actor - Al Pacino 
Nominated: Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music - Nino Rota 
Nominated: Best Film Editing - Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, Richard Marks 
Nominated: Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles - Robert De Niro 

Directors Guild of America Awards
Winner:  Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - Francis Ford Coppola 

The Essential Films

Golden Globes
Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture - Francis Ford Coppola 
Nominated: Best Motion Picture - Drama
Nominated: Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama - Al Pacino 
Nominated: Best Original Score - Nino Rota 
Nominated: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture - Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo 
Nominated: Most Promising Newcomer - Male - Lee Strasberg 

National Film Preservation Board
Inducted to National Film Registry: 1993

Writers Guild of America Awards
Winner: Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium - Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo 

"I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart." 

Michael Corleone has succeeded in making his “family” a top force in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and he seeks to expand his empire to pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Meanwhile, the early life of his father, Vito Corleone, is chronicled as he rises to power in the 1920s.

The first Godfather was ambitious.  The second film in this legendary series is even more so.  With Part II, director Coppola decides that a sequel to his Oscar Award-winning movie just isn’t enough.  No.  Instead he decides to make a sequel AND a prequel and turn them into the same movie.  The film follows Michael Corleone after he has risen to power and moved his operations to Lake Tahoe.  From there he must maneuver his way through a web of Mafia politics that include an old co-hort of his father’s, Hyman Roth, and his own brother.  On top of this he also survives an attempt on his life, deals with betrayal, escapes Cuba during the revolution and even appears before Congress.  This story would have been plenty to keep fans of the original film happy, but Coppola adds another element.  He juxtaposes the story of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone and HIS rise to power.  We see Vito as a young boy, then a man living in a poor Italian neighborhood in New York.  A chance encounter leads him into a life of petty crime and then, ultimately, ascendance as Mafia kingpin.  The movie jumps back and forth between both stories and the audience is never bored… despite the fact that the film has a run time of over 3 hours.  Coppola intertwines both stories expertly and the result is compelling.

Much like the first film, the acting is off the charts.  Pacino returns as Michael Corleone, instead of rising to the top of crime world, he now sits upon the throne.  Pacino plays him cool, collected and calm.  The performance is so effective that the moment he finally loses his temper, it’s shocking and terrifying.  But more effective than rage, Pacino really delivers a very understated grief-driven performance.  His blood family falls apart while he tries to keep his criminal family together.

Speaking of his blood family, John Cazale’s role is Fredo is given a huge increase in screen time.  Fredo is the idiot brother that can’t seem to do anything right, and as such was passed over for leadership of the Corleone family.  This leads him to make some questionable decisions that lead to him betraying his brother.  Obviously, this has disastrous consequences.  But Cazale plays him so earnestly and with so much pathos that the audience forgives him… even if Michael does not.

The film is filled with other great performances from Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall, reprising their roles as Kay Corleone and Tom Hagen, respectively, as well as Michael V. Gazzo, a new character known as Franke Five Angels.  But the performance that steals the show is Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone.  This is one of De Niro’s first major film roles, and what intimidating shoes to fill… a character previously portrayed by Marlon Brando?  But De Niro completely inhabits that character WITHOUT doing a Marlon Brando impression.  That kind of talent is amazing to behold.  Even more impressive is that DeNiro only had a few lines in English and did most of the movie speaking Italian.

Godfather Part II is one of those rare sequels that manages to take what worked in the original and then exceed your expectations.  It adds to the legend and the mythos instead of watering it down.  It has to be paired with Part I to get the complete story (let’s ignore Part III), you can’t watch or own one without the other.