Elliott’s review published on Letterboxd:
Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning The Godfather Part II isn’t just the perfect sequel but the perfect film, masterfully told, beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, chilling scored; Coppola’s crafted one of the greatest movies of all-time that is far superior to its predecessor.
Using the dual narrative as a way to juxtapose power given and power built, Puzo’s script stuns again with the gangster dialogue never feeling forced nor unconvincing and the contrast between the stories of Michael and Vito shows the ruthless building blocks from which the Corleone empire was built from and gives a whole new light to the story of the first film. The score from Nino Rota is even more brilliant than the first, using the spine-tingling theme for the first film with added arrangements and pieces that elevate the unstoppable drama of some scenes and helps you through quieter scenes and to appreciate the framing and cinematic language that Coppola uses better. However as well as Coppola uses the score as well as classic Italian-American pieces what’s perhaps more of a sign of his talents is when the score is not used to create an insurmountable level of tension in scenes that remains unmatched by any other film.
Somewhere in the world a guy must have created a re-edited Godfather trilogy where it’s all chronological and the scenes with Vito played by De Niro are at the start of the first film but that ll but ruins the impact of Godfather Part II. The point of the dual narrative structure isn’t just to tie up loose ends but to give a new light to previous and future events. Let’s take perhaps the most famous scene in the film where Vito and his friend are stealing a carpet from a family of means in the Italian dominated regions of America- on its own this scene plays as a masterfully constructed and intricately plotted sequence but knowing that this simple stealing of the rug started Vito’s slow descent into crime and the very beginnings of the Corleone mafia empire adds an added level of tension and dread to the scene- especially when the cop arrives at the door.
The cinematography from Gordon Willis plays no small part in this film’s success, in my opinion his contributions to the trilogy are as big as Coppola or Pacino’s and this film shows him at his strongest. As a DP ensemble staging is one of the hardest things to master, it’s a collaboration with the director and requires a sophisticated amount of choreography and a great eye for shot composition but where Michael and his posse are talking with Frank for the first time in the first half hour of the movie it’s one of the best shot sequences I’ve seen and the ensemble staging is flawless- though many praise the grandiose achievements for me it’s the small bits of technical mastery that define the first two films in the trilogy. Just as remarkable about Willis’ cinematography is his range- as opposed to his simplistic work for Woody Allen his work here is diverse with suspense-making long shots, masterful tracking takes, great transitions and purposeful close ups scattered meticulously throughout creating a lesson for all in how to shoot a film.
The performances of course are all fantastic, Al Pacino’s swagger is mixed with unstoppable moments of pure potent emotion and anger that underpin his demeanour to give his performance an added level of depth compared to his in the previous film. Robert De Niro is subtly brilliant as Vito and is a more than worthy replacement for Brando, Diane Keaton yet again proves herself to be one of the finest actors of her generation with a staggering turn as Fay, James Caan and Robert Duvall are stunning as usual and even the child actor of Vito is fantastic, portraying a brilliant amount of emotion with very few words.
The best scenes in the film are a culmination of all the mind-blowing talent involves, the shooting of Fanucci, the shooting at New Year, the I’m your older brother scene- all of these scenes are some of the finest sequences in cinematic history and its these kinds of pulse-raising set pieces that make The Godfather Part II superior to its predecessor in my opinion. The story is more engaging, the characters are more developed, the score is more ranged, the performances are stronger and each and every person involved seems to have refined and improved their craft in the two years in between. The use of the environment of Cuba is brilliant, the abortion scene is absolutely phenomenal, the use of sets and costumes are breath-taking and it’s one of the finest American movies ever made.