Robert De Niro won his first Oscar from his first nomination for portraying Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
De Niro gives a rather quiet, and restrained performance as Vito, which is quite interesting approach considering what Vito needs to eventually become later in his life. It only is an interesting approach really but the right approach for the role. De Niro also manages to turn Vito into his own character, as well as still show that it is the man who eventually becomes Marlon Brando's Vito, he has elements of Brando's performance in his own performance, but still makes his own mark on the character as well.
Vito begins quite humbly in the film working for very little money although already starting his family out in Little Italy in New York. In these early moment De Niro shows a quiet dignity to his performance. There really is a certain sensibility and intelligence that he always shows in Vito. De Niro also through his almost silent reactions at home that what Vito's primary belief in life is loyalty to his family.
De Niro in fact suggests that really this belief that prevails through Vito is what eventually leads him into his life of crime. There is actually no sort of hardening shown in De Niro's performance as Vito begins to commit crimes, nor should there be. De Niro instead shows it as more of Vito's natural move to succeed for his family, De Niro always infuses a certain degree of underlying ambition in Vito, a calculated ambition, that De Niro suggest in absolutely silent way, but completely brings the ambition to life.
De Niro is terrific in his moments of transition to becoming the Don of the neighborhood. As Vito commits the crime, De Niro also shows an efficiency in his efforts, particularly in his seen of his first murder. He never overacts for a moment, instead showing that Vito's power came from a business man type of efficiency. De Niro is great because he never acts like criminal with Vito, instead he does it just like a man performing his job nothing more.
After he has really come to power there is a great degree of power that De Niro conveys in Vito, that is particularly notable, becuase he has such an ease with his power over his neighborhood and the people in it. De Niro shows that Vito simply is in charge, and there is no question to it, through the way De Niro shows that Vito does not question or worry about his power, he merely is completely insured of it at all times.
De Niro gives an incredibly strong performance with a rather difficult character of Vito, he not only manages to show how he becomes the character Brando was in the first film, but also still manages to present a completely different side of his character. He manages to be able to fully realize the ambition, the power, as well as the love for his family without fault in this completely quiet performance.