Dissolve to a long shot of Michael sitting alone on a bench at the Corleone Mall. Clemenza calls him inside because he has a phone call. Over the phone, Kay tells Michael that she loves him but he cannot bring himself to respond. Sonny saunters in and asks about Paulie - and Clemenza replies that they won't be seeing him anymore. Michael tells Sonny he is going into the city and Sonny insists on sending protection, even though Michael doesn't want it. Cut to a lavish hotel room - where Michael and Kay are having a romantic room service dinner. They are quiet - there is clearly tension between them. Michael says he has to go to the hospital to see his father and Kay wants to come with him - but he wants to keep her away from his family business. She asks him when they will meet again, but he doesn't know - he wants her to stay with her parents for a while. He kisses her on the head before leaving.
Michael walks into the quiet, drab hospital. The hallways are empty and all the guards seem to be off duty. Michael, knowing something is wrong, runs up the stairs and stops in front of Room 2. He eases the door open and over his shoulder, we see the Don, lying asleep in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV. A nurse hisses at Michael - it's after visiting hours - and says that the police made all the guards leave. Michael calls Sonny, who sends his men out right away. Michael convinces the Nurse to help him move his father to another room because men are coming to kill him. As if to prove Michael's point, someone enters the hospital. As soon as the bed has been moved, Michael watches the stairs from behind a doorway. It's only Enzo - Nazorine's son-in-law, who has come bearing flowers. He is loyal to Don Corleone and offers to help Michael. Michael sends him outside to wait.
In a tight shot, Michael leans over his father and tenderly promises to take care of him, saying "I'm with you now. I'm with you". He strokes his father's hair and kisses his hands. Don Corleone smiles. Outside, Michael instructs Enzo to put his hands in his pockets and act like he has a gun. A black car pulls up in front of the hospital - with the imposing silhouettes of mafia men visible in the windows. Cut to a closeup on Michael's hand as he reaches inside his coat like he has a gun. The car drives away. Enzo is shaking, and so Michael, whose hand is steady, lights his cigarette for him.
Suddenly, police cars pull up and policemen storm through the hospital gates, grabbing Michael. The Police Captain, McCluskey, orders Michael to be taken to the station, even though his officers assure him that Michael is a war hero and not involved in his family's 'racket'. Michael refuses to go, accusing McCluskey of removing police protection from the hospital because he is on Sollozzo's payroll. In response, McCluskey punches Michael in the face - hard. Another car pulls up and Tom Hagen runs out to grab Michael, who is slumped over. A flurry of men come flooding through the gates - private detectives, Tom clarifies - hired to protect Vito Corleone and licensed to carry firearms. He threatens McCluskey that if he interferes, the Family will take him to court. The cops retreat and the detectives stake out the hospital.
Cut to the exterior of the Corleone Mall the morning after. There are now button men hovering everywhere. A car pulls through the heavily guarded gates and Michael gets out, along with Clemenza. Tessio explains to them that after the hospital incident, Sonny got mad and "hit" Bruno Tattaglia. Michael walks into the Don's office and Sonny calls his brother's badly swollen face "gorgeous". Sonny then explains that Sollozzo has summoned Michael to meet with him in order to hear a new proposition. Tom Hagen wants to hear what Sollozzo has to say, but Sonny is heated up. He wants Sollozzo's blood. Sonny sits at his father's desk and Tom leans over him, explaining that with the protection of McCluskey, Sollozzo is invincible. If the Corleones murder an NYPD officer, the family will be cast out - they will lose everything. Sonny listens and finally agrees not to hit Sollozzo - yet.
Just as it seems like everything is resolved, Michael speaks up and says that they have to kill Sollozzo before he kills Don Corleone. The camera shifts to settle on Michael, who is sitting cross-legged in an armchair in the center of the frame. The camera moves in closer on Michael's swollen face as he suggests setting the meeting with Sollozzo and McCluskey in a public place. He speaks confidently, saying that Clemenza can plant a weapon at the location of the meeting so that Michael can kill both men. Sonny, Clemenza, and Tessio start to chuckle. Sonny leans in close to his brother and mocks his bravado - but Michael does not relent. He thinks that a crooked cop will appeal to the newspaper people on the Corleone Family payroll. Tom Hagen smirks and seems to be impressed with the idea.
Cut to a close-up of a gun. Clemenza is training Michael how to carry out his deadly task. Clemenza tells Michael that the fallout from these murders will be bad, but it needs to happen every so often. He also makes sure to tell Michael that the whole family, his father included, are very proud of his achievements in the army. Cut to the Corleone family living room, where Tessio, Sonny, Clemenza, Lampone, and Michael are eating Chinese takeout in silence - there is unspoken anxiety around the table. Finally, an hour before the fated meeting is supposed to happen, Sonny finds out that it is going to take place at Louis' restaurant in the Bronx. Sonny and Clemenza keep drilling Michael about the procedure, concerned about whether or not he will be able to pull it off. Before walking out the door, Michael asks Sonny when he might be able to come back. Sonny thinks he will have to stay away at least a year. They embrace tenderly - a moment of real brotherly love.
That night, Michael paces outside Jack Dempsey's Restaurant. Sollozzo's car picks him up. Michael sits in the passenger seat and Sollozzo, sitting in the back seat, pledges not to harm Don Corleone as long as Michael promises to listen. McCluskey emerges from the other side of the back seat and frisks Michael. From inside the car's darkened exterior, Michael sees a sign indicating that they are on the way to Jersey - and he gets nervous. All of a sudden, though, the car makes a sharp U-Turn in the middle of the George Washington Bridge and turns around, heading back into Manhattan - towards the Bronx. Michael's eyes relax.
Inside Louis', a small, homey establishment, Sollozzo and Michael sit across from each other with McCluskey in between. The waiter uncorks a bottle of wine. Michael is silent. Sollozzo leans in close to Michael and speaks in Italian (without subtitles) Michael struggles to respond - his Italian is rusty. He eventually lapses into English and tells Sollozzo that he needs a guarantee - no more attempts on his father's life. Sollozzo counters that all he wants is a truce. Michael doesn't respond but rather, asks for permission to go to the bathroom. Before leaves the table, Sollozzo frisks Michael again.
Inside the bathroom, Michael reaches above the toilets, searching for the gun. He eventually finds it, pulling it down slowly. The camera remains in the bathroom stall and Michael, with his back to camera, takes a deep breath and smooths his hair back. He eases out of the bathroom and walks back towards the table, cautiously. He sits down. Sollozzo continues speaking in Italian and the camera tracks in slowly towards Michael's face. The sound of the El train becomes deafeningly loud and Michael's eyes fill with fire. He stands and fires a single shot into Sollozzo's head. He then shoots McCluskey once in the neck and once in the head. The bodies fall onto the table, which collapses. Michael drops the gun, gathers his coat, and dashes out of the restaurant - where a car picks him up. Cut back inside to reveal the carnage - Sollozzo's body still on the chair and McCluskey's corpse on the ground below - like a grotesque portrait.
The shooting of Don Corleone is the catalyst that starts Michael's ascension to the head of the family. The scene where Michael goes to visit his father in the hospital is also inspired by Hitchcock. Coppola slowly builds up the tense atmosphere to communicate the danger of the situation. Michael approaches the darkened hospital in a wide shot. He is small in the frame, ascending slowly towards the imposing hospital door. Then, he enters into a wide shot of the empty hospital corridor, which is eerily still, and cut to a POV shot of the admitting office, which is also abandoned. Michael's pace quickens and the music gets louder. In the next office, he sees a half-eaten sandwich and a cup of hot coffee - indicating that the hospital personnel has left in a hurry. Michael breaks into a run. As he edges open Don Corleone's door, the helpless, sleeping body of his father appears in the corner of the frame. This once powerful man is fallen, dwarfed. Michael stands over him - he is, whether he likes it or not, the Don's only protection at this moment - and Michael makes a choice.
This scene is entirely subjective, allowing the audience a glimpse into Michael's mind and understanding his actions. Regardless of the fact that Michael has avoided the family business, he cannot turn his back on father at this moment - this is personal. In an intimate close-up, Michael whispers his loyalty to his bedridden father and kisses his hand - the same sign of respect that the caporegimes show to their Don. However, the Don cannot speak in response, which is a physical transfer of power from father to son. As scholar Stephen Fox writes, "[Michael] becomes a criminal because he loves his daddy - nobody could object to that" (De Stefano 121).
In the hospital episode, Michael also compromises his reputation as the war hero, the "civilian" member of the family and gets dirty, literally. He defies McCluskey and earns a punch in the jaw, an injury that will plague him for years. Later, during a meeting in the Don's office, Michael's physical position is a direct contrast to the scene that took place right after the Don was shot. This time, Michael is sitting in the center of the room, cross-legged in a leather chair. When he vocalizes his plan to hit Sollozzo and McCluskey, the camera moves to establish him in the center of the frame and tracks in, slowly, as he speaks - muffled by his wired jaw. Michael shows here that he is more ruthless than his father. He is willing to break the unspoken rules of organized crime that his father respected, like never hitting the Police. Where Luca Brasi, Don Corleone, Sonny, and Fredo succumb to the brutality of Sollozzo's new order, Michael understands how to stay one step ahead of the other families. He alone has the foresight that will keep the Corelone family in power - although it eventually costs him his soul.
After Michael suggests shooting McCluskey and Sollozzo, the film cuts to Sonny, then Clemenza, then Tessio as they start to laugh. Cut to a low-angle shot of Sonny, tracking along with him as he strides towards Michael. In this way, the audience is able to relate to Michael as a younger brother, squeezed into the corner of the frame, while his brash older sibling teases him condescendingly. Tom Hagen, meanwhile, calls him "Mikey", as if he is a petulant child. Michael, however, refuses to back down - like a stubborn teenager. Later, Clemenza shows Michael how to shoot a gun in his basement. Coppola wanted the scene to feel "homey and warm, like [Michael] being with his favorite uncle in his workshop and having him explain how to do this or that. Except here, it's how to kill a man" (Jones 115). In this way, Coppola portrays the intersection between business and personal. Michael may not be interested in organized crime, but he knows what he has to do to ensure the survival of his family.
Coppola crafts his sound design in order to heighten certain moments, playing up the theatricality of the dinner scene between Michael, Sollozzo, and McCluskey at Louis' Restaurant. Sollozzo speaks to Michael in Italian, but Coppola chose not to add subtitles. For English-speaking viewers (like the readers of this note), the content of Sollozzo's speech is not important, because Michael has already made his decision to kill the man and nothing is going to dissuade him. Additionally, the scene is, once again, subjective, because Michael does not speak Italian very well either. Michael, along with the audience, is just waiting for the moment when he can go into the bathroom to retrieve his gun.
After Michael comes back from the bathroom, armed, he sits at the table and Sollozzo continues speaking in Italian. The camera tracks in towards Michael's face. Al Pacino's performance is brilliant in this moment - it is evident in his eyes that he is psyching himself up. Then, while the Elevated train shrieks deafeningly over the tracks, the audience experiences Michael's internal fire as his eyes ignite and he stands, killing Sollozzo and McCluskey in cold blood. There is no score as McCluskey gurgles and chokes, emphasizing the visceral nature of Michael's gruesome task. After Michael has escaped from the scene of the crime, Coppola cuts back inside the restaurant to give the audience one last glimpse of the carnage, this time accompanied by Nino Rota's dramatic score. The camera is stationary, creating a tableau - eternally capturing the moment when Michael crossed an important line. As Sonny tells his brother earlier, this is not war, where you can shoot at people from far away and come home a decorated hero. This is murder.