CatherineShort’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is definitely not as good as The Gofather (1972) but it’s still a very good follow up to one of the most acclaimed films of all time. This is the last of 91 Best Picture winners that I have watched and it’s probably one of the best as it’s consistently involving for 3 and a half hours and weaves together several different elements to tell a fascinating story. Francis Ford Coppola has made four masterpieces with this, The Godfather, The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) but this was the only film that he won Best Director for which is ridiculous because he should have three Best Director awards. Of course I would recommend that people watch this film because it is a worthy sequel to a great film and it is extremely entertaining to boot.
Three years after the end of The Godfather Michael Corleone, Al Pacino, has become the most powerful Mob leader in the country and plans to expand his empire despite facing an assassination attempt he believes was organized by his associate Hyman Roth, Lee Strasberg. He continues to do business with Roth even as he tries to have him murdered and faces a serious threat from the investigation of an organized crime commission. We also see how his father Vito Corleone, Robert De Niro, came to America and first became involved in organized crime. When Michael discovers the betrayal of his brother Fredo, John Cazale, and is left by his wife Kay, Diane Keaton, he makes controversial decisions.
My big issue with the film was that the arc did not feel as strong as that found in the first film as we already know that Michael is evil and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed so his assassination of Fredo had less effect. It’s not say that I wasn’t engaged in and interested in the story but the dramatic plot beats did not have the same effect as they did in the first film. Yes, it was shocking when I discovered that Kay had her baby aborted instead of having a miscarriage but I cared less about her character than I did about Sonny, James Caan, in the first film or Connie, Talia Shire, who receives so little screen time. The end of The Godfather was so brilliant that it would be difficult to top it and while it could be argued that this film is more quiet and contemplative I still think it pales in comparison when compared to it’s predecessor.
The biggest positives of the film are the performances as Shire and Pacino do some of their best work. Pacino combines the steely resolve he developed in the first film with a touch of sadness as he reminisces about the man he once was with the awareness he can never go back. Shire is fantastic in just a few scenes as we see her as a shameless floosy in her first scene but later witness her attempt to explain her actions and desperately try to convince her brother not to murder Fredo. The performers in the supporting cast are also reliably good as Duvall reprises his role as the loyal Tom Hagen successfully and Strasberg is convincing as the unexpectedly evil Hyman Roth. I don’t know if I would have given Best Supporting Actor to De Niro because although he’s decent Pacino steals the show from him.
Coppola shows how talented he is as a director here as he weaves together a story that sometimes feels messy to make it coherent and extremely watchable. This film fully deserves the Best Picture award that it won despite strong competition like Chinatown (1974) and Lenny (1974). I wouldn’t put it among the top ten Best Picture winners but it’s a decision that has aged well and it’s rabid fan base proves that it has critical and commercial appeal. Don’t go in expecting something excellent but you will get great moments like Tom asking Michael “Why do you hurt me Michael? I’ve always been loyal to you” and really what more could you want from a film than seeing Pacino and Duvall together acting their hearts out, that’s what we go to the cinema for.