Well, it’s come to this.
First released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was nominated for best picture (it lost to
Goodfellas Dances With Wolves) but it’s got a terrible reputation. Over the past two weeks, whenever I’ve mentioned that I was planning on reviewing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II for this series of reviews, everyone who I talked to mentioned that they loved the first two Godfather films and that they hated the third one. Quite a few, in fact, suggested that I shouldn’t even bother reviewing the third one. In their eyes, The Godfather Part III was like that one cousin who you know exists but, because he got caught cashing your grandma’s social security check, you never send a Christmas card.
But you know what?
It was never even an option for me to skip reviewing The Godfather, Part III. First off, I’m a completist. It’s long been my goal to review every single best picture nominee and, regardless of how much some people may dislike it, that’s exactly what The Godfather Part III is.
Plus, I love the Godfather movies. I’m a fourth Italian (and, much like the Corleones, my Italian side comes from Southern Italy) and I was raised Catholic. Let’s face it — The Godfather movies were made for me. Even Part III.
So, with all that in mind, I recently sat down and rewatched The Godfather Part III. And I’m not saying that it was an easy film to watch. It’s a flawed film and those flaws are made even more obvious when you compare it to the previous two Godfathers. It’s hard to follow up on perfection. And I have to admit that, even though I had seen Part III before, I was still expecting it to be better than it actually was. I had forgotten just how many slow spots there were. I had forgotten how confusing the plot could get. I had forgotten….
Okay, I’m really starting to sound negative here and I don’t want to sound negative. Because I like The Godfather, Part III. I think it’s a good but uneven film. Some of my favorite films are good but uneven…
But this is a Godfather film that we’re talking about here!
The Godfather Part III opens in 1979, 20+ years since the end of the second film. Tom Hagen has died off-screen (booo!) and Michael (Al Pacino) is nearly 60 and looking forward to retirement. He’s handed the Corleone criminal empire over to the flamboyant Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna). Michael has finally become a legitimate businessman but he’s lost everyone that he loved. Kay (Diane Keaton) has divorced him. His son, Anthony (Franco D’Ambrosio), knows that Michael was responsible for killing Uncle Fredo and wants nothing to do with the family business. Instead, Anthony wants to be an opera singer. Meanwhile, his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) is headstrong and rebellious. (Or, at least, she’s supposed to be. That’s what the audience is told, anyway. None of that really comes across on the screen.)
Now, the first two Godfather films featured their share of melodrama but neither one of them comes close to matching all of the schemes, betrayals, and plots that play out over the course of Godfather, Part III. Let’s see if I can keep all of this straight:
As the film opens, Michael is receiving an award from the Vatican. Kay, who is now married to a judge, shows up with Mary and Anthony. Michael is obviously happy to see her. Kay glares at him and says, “That ceremony was disgusting!” (Damn, I thought, Kay’s suddenly being kind of a bitch. Fortunately, later on in the movie, Kay’s dialogue was both better written and delivered.)
Then, Vincent (Andy Garcia) shows up! Vincent is one of those handsome, sexy gangsters whose every action is followed by an exclamation point! Vincent is Sonny’s illegitimate son! He wears a cool leather jacket! He openly flirts with his cousin Mary! He has sex with Bridget Fonda! He kills Joey Zasa’s thugs! He convinces Michael to mentor him!
And, as soon as Vincent enters the film, suddenly every scene starts to end with an exclamation point!
And then, Michael goes to Sicily! He gets swindled by the corrupt Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly)! He gets targeted by a corrupt Italian politician! He confesses his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone)! Lamberto later becomes Pope!
Meanwhile, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) is conspiring to kill Michael! Because that’s what elderly Mafia dons do! And then Kay, Anthony, and Mary all come to Sicily! Anthony is going to be making his opera debut! And soon Vincent is sleeping with Mary, even though they’re first cousins!
And even more people want Michael dead and I’m not really sure why! Everyone goes to the opera! We sit through the entire opera! Meanwhile, enemies of the Corleones are killed! And some Corleones are killed! And it all ends tragically!
Okay, I’m starting to get snarky here and it’s probably getting a little bit hard to believe that I actually do like The Godfather, Part III. And, as much as I hate to do it, there are a few more flaws that I do need to point out. Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and she has really pretty hair and we both have similar noses but …. well, let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing that Sofia pursued a career as a director and not as an actress. Reportedly, Sofia was a last minute pick for the role, cast after Winona Ryder suddenly dropped out of the production. It’s not so much that her performance is terrible as much as it’s not up to the level of the rest of the cast. Watching this Godfather, you’re acutely aware of how much of what you’re seeing on screen was determined by Sofia’s inexperience as an actress.
And then there’s that opera. Now, I know that I’m supposed to love opera because I’m a girl and I’m a fourth Italian. And I do love big emotions and big drama and all the rest. But oh my God, the opera at the end of the movie went on and on. There’s only so much entertainment you can get out of watching actors watch other actors.
But, at the same time, for every flaw, there’s a part of the film that does work. First off, the film itself is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of wonderfully baroque sets and scenes taking place against the beautiful Italian landscape. Al Pacino brings a very real gravity to the role of Michael and it’s fun to watch him trying to win back Diane Keaton. (In those brief scenes, The Godfather Part III almost becomes a romantic comedy.) Talia Shire is obviously having a lot of fun playing Connie as being a Lady MacBeth-type of character. (In fact, they needed to give Connie a film of her own where she could poison anyone who get on her nerves.) And Andy Garcia does a great job as Vincent. You watch him and you never have any doubt that he could be Sonny’s son.
The Godfather Part III may not live up to the first two Godfather films but what film could?