The Godfather Part III (1990) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Joe Mantagna, Sofia Coppola, Diane Keaton.
Can we finally show some love to “The Godfather Part III?” Before the trend of reviving old franchises, Francis Coppola decided to make a third part to his legendary Godfather duo. It was 1990, 16 years after 1974’s “The Godfather Part II”. With the enormous pressure of meeting the expectations of the first two films, “Godfather Part III” was a disappointment to almost all fans. Even the seven Oscar nominations it received seemed like a ‘nice try’ pat on the back for Coppola.
Since 1990 “Part III” has been like the Scarlett Letter, or the runt of the family that people don’t recognize. Even I joined in the fray and refused to acknowledge “Part III” as part of the “Godfather” saga. Most of the criticism centred on Coppola’s casting of his daughter Sofia as Michael Corleone’s daughter. Time to debunk this, she’s not that bad – certainly not enough to ruin the film.
This zeitgeist of hate against the film has perpetuated itself much too far. It even made EW’s list of worst sequels of all time – landing in between “Revenge of the Nerds II” and “Legally Blonde: Red, White and Blue”. Come on! So 18 years after Part III, and with a new Blu-Ray edition to marvel at, it’s time to show the respect this film deserves.
Like the two previous films “Part III” opens with a party, this time celebrating a donation of the Corleone family to the Catholic Church. This is a different Michael Corleone than we last saw him. It’s 1979 and the family is mostly legitimate - the casinos have been sold off and the Lake Tahoe estate abandoned. Instead Michael has gone corporate. The party also serves as a reunion of sorts – Kay who left Michael years ago returns with a new husband; and a new face shows up, Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) the illegitimate son of Sonny. Like Sonny, Vincent’s a hothead and desires to work for Michael as his bodyguard to combat a growing feeling of dissention from Michael’s former mafia colleagues. After an assassination attempt Michael agrees to take on Vincent.
Vincent unfortunately falls in love with Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), which both men know makes Vincent vulnerable to his enemies and endangers Mary. As Vincent struggles with his choices, Michael finds himself in a complex web of corporate intrigue which involves an international corporate conglomerate Immobiliare, the Catholic Church and the Mafia. Michael’s forced to bring back those gangland instincts in order to free himself against the plots against his family.
Like the previous two films Coppola remarkably controls the tone of the film. It always starts with Gordon Willis’ cinematography. It’s slightly different colour palette, the sepia look is updated slightly with a more golden tone. It reflects greater wealth and esteem of the Corleone family in this modern age. The stakes and scope of the film is larger than previous films. The Catholic Church, the Pope, large corporate conglomerates show the new era of corruption. The ‘globalization’ of organized crime if you will.
Coppola is careful to continue his solid foundation of character as basis for the conflict. Central to this is Andy Garcia’s character. It’s a marvelous performance (which garnered him an Oscar nomination). When we first meet Vincent as a leather-jacket wearing street thug, he’s overacting like a gangster. It feels out of place, like out a Godfather parody. But of course, this is by design because this is Vincent’s desire – to be part of the Corleone family. After Michael’s son Anthony chooses a life of music over the ‘family business’, however legitimate, we can understand Michael’s attraction to Vincent’s unquestioned loyalty. Over the course of the film, watch how Vincent changes. Under the guidance of Michael his rough edges are smoothed over and he develops the confidence and coolness of a leader.
In the short term, Michael’s politicking and alliance with Vincent works – but he can only evade his past so long. The finale preceded by another wonderful montage assassination sequence, is both a surprise and deeply emotional climax to the full Godfather story. After the dramatic death, Coppola’s flashbacks to the two previous films satisfyingly link the three films and complete the second arc of Michael's character.
“Godfather Part III” was not a necessary addition to the story – neither was Part II though either. So what if Part III doesn’t have the ‘magic’ of the other two parts, it’s better than “The Phantom Menace”. Enjoy.
PS. And again, for the record, Sofia Coppola is not that bad. She’s certainly not great, but Coppola cuts around her performance to get what he needs from her minimal performance.
“The Godfather Part III” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of the new Coppola Restoration edition of the series.
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