This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The Godfather: Part II is superior to the first film. Nothing lulls like the original, and the dual story is a genius conceit that allows new depth. It is more vague, stuck in history and not just a single fictional, self-contained story. The Godfather: Part II is a story with no borders, crossing decades, timelines, and without a beginning nor an end. It is richer and smarter and more complex than The Godfather, bringing real history, from the Cuban Revolution and Senate hearings and old immigration protocols, to contextualise The Godfather saga as the great American epic. The long, carefully considered takes are bolder and more incredible than the first film. Al Pacino delivers possibly the finest performance ever nominated for Best Actor. The Godfather is a masterpiece that I absolutely adore, but Part II is bigger and better and truly special. It's quite possibly the highest art Hollywood has ever made.
The Godfather: Part II is the story of two men and their descent into evil. Yet they have very different stories. The son is given success and has to merely maintain it. The father started from nothing and had to earn it all. There are two kinds of America. There is the America where an immigrant can rise up to gain wealth, legally or otherwise. There is also the America where people are born lucky and they have all the power. In these two stories, America is encapsulated. The criminal actions in The Godfather: Part II are just an extension of the legitimate economic power plays in society. The film shows politicians as the bedfellows of crime, presenting legitimate and illegitimate power as interconnected. As the mafia expands into lawfulness, crooked and corrupt behaviour never dies.
The Godfather: Part II is a film of family matters. One successful man breeds dependency in his family. All characters are dependent on the Don, and even Michael Corleone is dependent on his father's empire. A wise man speaks at the start of The Godfather: Part II. He is a mafia chieftain who knows a boy can grow up vengeful. This becomes the bedrock of The Godfather: Part II. As men grow and gain power, they seek only vengeance. Masculinity is fragile, as seen in Fredo's weaknesses and failures. The Godfather: Part II tells two stories. One is about the foundation of a family. The other is about its breakup. A belief in family means you can never lose it, and yet in a world of betrayal, times can change. We are not our fathers. The Godfather: Part II shows time transcending all, as each life is different from those just one generation away. Our stories are defined by our circumstances. So in the end, Michael has dead parents and brothers, resentful children, a confused sister, a lost wife, and an heir aborted. Michael is alone, just like Vito was on the boat to America. Full circle.
The Godfather: Part II is perfectly paced, allowing each of its stories plenty of time to develop in each of their segments. The rich, textured colours build so much character, with brown and grey and black constructing a tapestry of serious history. The prequel scenes fully dive into the intricacies and details of Italian immigrant subculture. The sequel scenes are mostly just sitting and talking, but the blocking and body language and even the chairs are all so revealing. This is a mythical, multi-generational story. One boy crossed the Atlantic and almost sixty years later his son is master of an empire. Yet to do that has created the most unclean soul in the world. The Godfather: Part II tells the darkest story. Michael, a man of honour at the start of the first film, ends here just sat lonely in the shadows. He has become the master of darkness, and it cost him everything except success.