In the continuing saga of the Corleone crime family, a young Vito Corleone grows up in Sicily and in 1910s New York. In the 1950s, Michael Corleone attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood and Cuba.
Part II tells two parallel stories: Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) continued descent into corruption and Vito Corleone’s (played by Robert De Niro as an adult) rise to power in New York. I infinitely prefer the flashbacks to Vito’s rise over the straight up continuation of The Godfather, but I’ll say some more on that later. Michael’s story continues about five years or so after the last film. The Corleone family is established in Nevada, owns several casinos, hotels, and politicians, and is doing pretty well. Just as The Godfather opened with a wedding reception, Part II opens with a celebration of Anthony’s (Michael’s son) first communion. After refusing a request of Pentangeli (the man who has replaced Clemenza, played by Michael V. Gazzo), Michael and Kay are shot at in their bedroom.
Michael, of course, is furious. He takes immediate action and goes to see Pentangeli and then Hyman Roth (Lee Stasberg). Even on the second viewing I’m still kind of confused about what actually goes on here because Michael tells the two of them that the opposite person attempted to assassinate him. In that moment, I cannot tell which person he is lying to and which person he suspects to have tried to kill him. This is one of the highlights of Pacino’s performance for me; how Michael can be so mysterious and manipulative even though at other times I can figure out exactly what’s going on in his head. Anyway, he also suspects that his brother Fredo (John Cazale) might have something to do with it, and I can at least tell when this suspicion is confirmed: the famous “I know it was you, Fredo” scene, which freaks me out in all honesty.