Working both as a prequel and as a sequel to the original 1972 masterpiece, The Godfather: Part 2 feels more as an operatic and more complete story of decay, sin and moral ambiguity within the Corleone mafia family.
The two main storylines show the contrast between the two Dons, as we get an inside on how similar and different in the same time they are and how they manage to climb on the social class. Whilst Vito (in a beautifully nuanced performance by a young De Niro) has humble beginnings, starting as a store clerk, but through a sheer of circumstances manages to take his shot and climb, Michael continues his legacy with an iron fist and not taking any risks, ordering the hits on every family who try to make him an enemy: „If history has taught us but one thing is that you can kill anyone!” It’s here where the movie works as a Shakesperean tragedy, a story about a man who is winning everything, who ends up being at the top, but losing everything and everyone in the same time. Al Pacino’s magnetic and sometimes understated performance ranges from a flawed father and husband to a confident and untouchable mobster, a cruel Don feared by everyone around him. The scene in which he talks with his ageing mother about his fear of losing the ones he holds dear always strikes as the best and most truthfully humane, and represents the moral core of the story as it brings in context yet again the importance of family. This is why the ending, in which we see a solemn Michael, sitting in the chair, all alone, staring in the abyss is so powerful.
Robert De Niro’s portrayal of young Vito Corleone is one of an ambitious and intelligent young man, that learns the value of respect and loyalty in a foreign country. While his narrative opens with the killing of his brother and mother, at the hands of the local sicillian boss, it also ends with his personal vendetta against him, and his success in launching the most powerful mafia family. So, if Michael’s story is one of a moral failure, Vito’s is one of triumph against all odds. It’s one of the many reasons why this film works so well even now. It’s almost a parody and an ironic look at the American dream. Copolla’s direction is subtle and epic in the same time, relying on scenes in which his characters act unexpectedly, with a lot of dark nuances in the color palette of the film’s latter half. He also manages to avoid exposition at all costs.
The longest and the darkest in the trilogy, The Godfather: Part 2 is the best one, not because it’s bigger and broader, but because it’s bold and it takes risks, it expands its characters and universe while remaining true to them, and by the end you’re compelled by the magnitude and power of it. Daniel Craciun