The Godfather Part III: It is not as Bad as Everyone Says
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Music Carmine Coppola
Release Date: Dec 1990
Running Time: 162 minutes
Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Diane Keaton
It is worth noting that Mr Coppola and Mr Puzo never envisaged this as a third entry in the saga. It was not a trilogy; this was supposed to be an epilogue, even having a separate working title “The Death of Michael Corleone”. Supposedly drafted to focus on Michael’s eldest son, Anthony and his naval career, very little survived from this draft. Aside from the bungled assassination attempt in Vincent Corleone’s apartment, it was pretty much binned.
Robert Duvall dropped out due to Pacino being paid over three times what he was. So, was written out and replaced by a somewhat underused George Hamilton.
In what is possibly the most poorly received aspect of the film, Julia Roberts was due to play Mary Corleone but could not commit. It was said to be resolved by Rebecca Shaeffer taking the part, until her tragic murder just before signing, Winona Ryder famously dropped out, and after various others were considered, the role fell to Sofia Coppola, in a baffling mix of mis-judgement and nepotism, a relatively inexperienced family member took on a pivotal role. Coppola denies this charge, but motives appear murky at best. It is evident she was out of her depth. In an appalling performance, Sofia drags the entire film out of kilter. Although many consider Winona Ryder a wildly overrated performer, she would have held far greater gravitas in such a role (providing an English accent were not required!).
It had been more than 16 years since the Godfather pt. II. Arguably the best sequel and one of the best movies, ever made. In story it has not really been any longer. The end of the second installment was around 1960 and this deals with real life events from the late seventies. Clearly the years have not been kind to Michael. Diabetic and shuffling. A very different Pacino from the sprightly old fox to come three years later in Carlito’s Way
Michael, still powerful, is haunted by the deeds of his past. The movie starts (as they all do) with a ceremony reception. Michael receiving the medal of the order of St Sebastian, a papal honour given for his charitable work.
Now retired from what was the Corleone crime family he still sits on the Mafia commission. Trouble arises, however, due to a quarrel between dissatisfied ex-protege, Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna) who now runs the old family, and the formidable Vincent Corleone, Sonny Corleone's illegitimate child - remember Lucy in the bathroom in part one (“SONNY!”)? - He is the outcome. Good-looking, clever, and like his father, a ferociously violent disposition. Michael brokers peace between them, somewhat unsuccessfully, but reluctantly accepts and mentors Vincent
As with the other films, it runs along with real-life events. This time it is the suspicious death of Pope John Paul I and the Vatican Banking Scandal of 1976. Michael tries to aid the church in paying off a debt, the reward being an appointment to the head of International Immobiliare, a real estate corporation under majority control of the Vatican. This would make him one of the most powerful men in history.
With Joey Zaza full of resentment and the corrupt clergy circling, Michael finds himself under attack and the victim of a hustle. With Vincent in tow, and Al Neri as faithful as ever, Michael relocates to Sicily to regroup and respond. His old bodyguard Calo, who has managed to stick his blown apart body back together somehow, provides muscle and intelligence and the formidable Vincent is Michael knows, his only possible successor, Michael's son, Anthony, is pursuing a successful operatic career. Connie (Talia Shire) assists and advises. There is also his very-American lawyer, Harrison, who makes Tom Hagen look like Charlie Luciano, further proof of Michael's distance from the old La Cosa Nostra days.
Things are somewhat complicated by Vincent and his cousin Mary, Michael's daughter, falling in love. Something Michael is vehemently against. He also knows his enemies are going to exploit this, and it is typical of his cunning and clarity to not only forsee it, but to embrace and manipulate it for his gains.. He will as ever, use what others think will be a weakness, as a strength for his strategy.
Michael eventually decides to settle all business and step back as Don.. Unfortunately, an act of violence interrupts this process. Michael resists but the power is then passed to Vincent.. As the new don he acts swiftly. In a scene much like the christening of the first, this time an Opera, the pinnacle of the movie's events is met. While Anthony is making his debut, and Michael is hunted by the lethal Mosca of Montelepre. A deadly contact of the duplicitous Altobello. Yet moves are being made to consolidate and obliterate.
The conclusion is suitably dramatic. A little bit drawn out, but it is set to the debut of Anthony in the opera, Cavalleria Rusticana. The music is so spellbinding that it is hard not to enjoy, it is just somewhat longer than a christening.
So why is it so badly held, considering it was nominated for eight Academy Awards although ultimately winning none of them (the first Godfather film to do so). After all, it was not panned when it came out, far from it. It has just picked up a negative tumour that grew exponentially.
Certain reasons stand out. The aforementioned Sofia Coppola as Mary. She appeared in all three films, as the baby being christened in the first, as one of the young children in the second, and as a train-wreck in the third. There were daft things that would not have been out of place in a Michael Bay film. The bodyguard twins hired to protect Michael were interjected. So lazy and crappy. Not worthy of the Godfather, the way they play out is so laughable, you think you have misread it. Also, a very violent incident at a meeting, and it is so over-the-top that once again, John Woo is more your guy. Helicopters, machine guns etc etc Also, I have to say, a pair of glasses? If you have seen it, you will know what I mean.
Then you have the positives, which are multiple. The Cuban-born Andy Garcia cuts a fascinating offspring of the enigmatic Santino. Equally as powerful but with more cunning. He makes it very watchable; his confidence is intoxicating. Although, as happened in the first movie with Michael, his change was too rapid. From top street-crim to sage Mafia don was a little hard to swallow.
The crooked chain-smoking Archbishop Gilday, played by Donal Donnelly is a strong and reassuring presence, as is the splendid Eli Wallach, one of the greatest villain actors of all time as the “peacemaker” Don Altobello. Talia Shire seems to naturally return to the role of Connie, and is now directly involved in the family affairs, albeit with a slight naivete and clumsiness.
One must wonder that if this was not intended to be a third part when written, maybe they should have taken that philosophy into the structure. It follows the same sort of arc, it has the same themes, and it uses the same backdrops (parties and social events) against the violence. It could even be called formulaic, but then following such triumphant predecessors, why not? Still, it feels like this caused the story to be written around the template, affecting the finished product
Ending with the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana is inspired. The music is all pretty excellent, Carmine Coppola is no slouch after all and takes over from Nino Rota with class and success.. Filming wise, it is a lot more internal and cinematography-wise, not too ambitious. It almost has a noir feel.
This film is not as good as the first two, and it deserves some, but not all, of its criticism. It is entertaining. if a little over-complicated. The introduction of Vincent Corleone was a plus, and possibly saved the film from Ms Coppola and her Thanos-like inevitability. Destroying fifty per-cent of everything.
Overall verdict, if the other two are tens, this is a seven. It is remembered as a four but could even be an eight. If you are a fan of the first, you must see it for yourself. That said you probably have. So there.
Seriously though....glasses?!?!? Was he made of fucking plasticine!