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The Godfather Part II Review

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We follow Michael (Pacino) through the 1950s, as his would-be legitimate business gets into sleazy deals in Cuba and the US Senate, and he is forced to break the ultimate taboo by having his own brother murdered. Meanwhile, we see his father Vito (De Niro) as a young man, establishing the family via a street gang in turn-of-the-century New York.

★★★★★

These days, any old franchise can spin off a string of Roman numeral sequels. But back in 1974, it was almost unprecedented for the makers of a Best Picture Academy Award-winner to return to the well. It's significant that this is called The Godfather Part II rather than Godfather II, since Coppola and his collaborators did not give us more of the same, but extended the original story of the Corleone family backwards and forwards, while deepening the characterisations.

Darting back and forth in time, this follows Michael (Pacino) through the 1950s, as his would-be legitimate business gets into sleazy deals in Cuba and the US Senate, and he is forced to break the ultimate taboo by having his own brother murdered. Meanwhile, we see his father Vito (De Niro) as a young man, organising a street gang in turn-of-the-century New York. Coppola, steeped in Italian-American myth of the immigrant experience, canonises Vito, who founds the Mafia to protect his people from more predatory dons, while exposing the way Vito's family business harbours the seed of his son's monstrously corrupt empire.

This was the film in which Pacino and De Niro were first teamed, though the exigencies of the narrative mean that they never actually meet. Both are electrifying but Pacino is especially strong, his hollow gaze showing the high price Michael has paid for his position. And with supporting roles from the likes of Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Lee Strasberg, to say nothing of Roger Corman and Harry Dean Stanton in bit parts, this is nothing short of magisterial.

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This is nothing short of magisterial.