DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE GODFATHER PART III

Saturday 27 September 2008


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.

Other Relevant Postings:


Andrew D. Wells said...

Thank you, Alan. This is a far too derided film. Too much was made of Sophia's performance and people are too willing to overlook how good it it because it isn't its predecessors. I've always felt the same way as you about this film. One good thing may have come from the thrashing it and Sophia too at the time of its release, however. Sophia has become one of the best directors of her generation. That may have been worth people telling her she stunk as an actress.

Anonymous said...

The story was over at the end of Godfather II. There is simply no reason for this picture to exist. I would have preferred such a mediocre rehash to have been presided over by a hack if it had to be done at all since frankly, it feels like the work of a, well ... uh, hack.

Andrew D. Wells said...

The story of The Godfather was over at the end of The Godfather. The two stories of the Godfather II were over at the end of The Godfather II. I don't see what is wrong with adding a third (fourth) story to the series.

Mark A. Fedeli said...

yeah, calling F.F. Coppola a hack in this film does nothing for your creds. There are a great many memorable and well done moments in this film that are upper-echelon film making. Unfortunately, the more average moments are forced to compete with the GF legacy. it's a no-win. but, it was an admirable effort, nonetheless. and definitely in that year's Top 5.

i've always thought a shorter version may have benefited and helped separate 3 from 1&2. it seems the attempt to fit it into the 3 hour epic mold of the previous films may have allowed Coppola to over-extend. perhaps a more restrained, meditative, and personal 2:15 version could have improved the overall product.

but as i said, regardless, there is enough of a great film in there to make it far more worthy than all the negative reviews it has always received. oh well, sum of it's parts i guess...

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for the support guys.

Boo on you Klymkiw!

Anonymous said...

First, to Mr. Wells - some stories are worth telling, other are not. More importantly, some stories reach a natural conclusion, while others are stretched interminably to the detriment of the original source material. GFIII falls squarely in the latter category. For years, GF and GFII stood, not as separate movies, but one epic father-son story set against the backdrop of crime in America. The final images of GFII haunted me and many others for years until GFIII spewed onto the silver screen with its mind-numbing mediocrity and Pacino's ridiculous haircut. Is there anything wrong with this? No, but only if GFIII had a sliver of the integrity of Hamlet 2. But alas, GFIII has no laughs. Hamlet 2 does.

Next, to Mr. Fedeli:

GFIII has occasional flourishes - the kind one would expect from Mr. Coppola. Sadly, though, the picture is a dud. Also, I may have been hasty in attaching a negative connotation to the word "hack". Some of my favourite filmmakers are hacks. So allow me to revise my statement slightly and suggest that GFIII might have been palatable under the helm of someone like Jack Hill or Larry Cohen or, for that matter, Joel Schumacher.

To Mr. Bacchus: Thanks for the head the other night. I'll be sure to extend the appropriate reach-around.