The Godfather Part III Review
One of the many great things about DVD is that it allows audiences to revisit, and, in many cases to reassess, films that have been largely forgotten about since their original cinematic release. In some cases, as with The Goonies or Transformers: the Movie, it's hard to see what all the fuss was ever about, with the films seeming lacklustre today (and if you're a Goonies fan, don't bother writing about how wonderful the film is, sell it and get this instead). However, more often, it provides an audience with a chance to encounter a great work of cinema for the first time, either as a very high-profile release (Citizen Kane), or as a more low-profile title, such as this one. This film also has the stigma of being the weakest of the Godfather films, and it has become fashionable to describe it as 'the film that Coppola never should have made', with especial scorn being reserved for Coppola's casting of his daughter in a pivotal role. To add insult to injury, the film was defeated at the Oscars by both Scorsese's Goodfellas, an utterly different type of gangster film, and Costner's Dances with Wolves, a film that has been slowly sliding into obscurity since then. This film, however, can now be watched on its own merits as the final instalment in the greatest American film trilogy ever made, and is in some ways the most interesting of the three.
The plot is closer to the linear events of the first film than the time-jumping narrative of the second, as Michael Corleone (Pacino), now a legitimate businessman and wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, attempts to live as moral a life as possible, albeit one still haunted by his past wrongs, including the murder of his brother; now, he wishes to rebuild a new life with his children Anthony and Mary (Sofia Coppola), but this is threatened, both by intrigues within the Vatican, where he has invested a vast sum of money, and by the advent of his illegitimate nephew Vincent (Garcia). Tragedy ensues.
If the first film was Shakespearean, and the second film more like a contemporary work of modern theatre, the final film is the most unashamedly Greek in its tragic roots. Whether you despise Michael Corleone by this point in the series, or regard him as a man 'more sinned against than sinning', it is impossible to deny that Coppola's depiction of him here is a more humanistic view of a man undone by hubris and the sins of his past; one of the finest moments comes when, invited to confess by a sympathetic priest, Michael starts to confess, and finds himself unable to, breaking down and crying helplessly as he has to account for his wrongdoings. Certainly, Pacino's superb performance helps immensely; while early scenes perhaps indulge him slightly too much in the slightly mannered performance that he perfected around the early 1990s, he manages to evoke the young man of 20 years before extremely well, most memorably in the scenes set on Sicily, which both visually and structurally remind us of the scenes set there in the first film.
The film is also strong in other respects. The action set-pieces are far more elaborate and operatic this time, with a stunning assassination by helicopter and a Hitchcockian climax at the opera house being the two strongest, but the sense of scale and violence is entirely appropriate for what Corleone has become by this time, less a man than a business organisation. If you watch the films as a parable about capitalism, then this is perhaps the strongest warning against it; however, the films are vastly more interesting as a family saga, with a remarkable emotional punch by this film's intensely moving climax. Only the perfunctory final scene feels rushed and unnecessary.
The film is, unfortunately, flawed. Sofia Coppola is certainly attractive as Mary, but she is utterly inadequate as an actress, sounding more like a teenager reading lines off a cue-card than someone in the same league as the other actors. To be fair, this does partially work, meaning that the character's youth and inexperience come over clearly; however, a stronger actress might well have made the part a more resonant one. (Winona Ryder was in fact cast, but dropped out because of 'exhaustion'.) The other major problem is that, like the second film, the plot is wildly over-complicated; however, whereas the previous film ultimately distilled its skulduggery down to a very simple dilemma on Michael's part, the conspiracies involving the Vatican here seem mostly irrelevant to the real plot.
The performances, apart from Ms. Coppola, are all superb, as you would expect from the veterans like Pacino, Keaton and Shire. The big surprise here is Andy Garcia as Vincent; while he initially appears to have been cast to add 'youth appeal' to a potentially middle-aged story, he is superb as Sonny's illegitimate nephew, with his move from youthful irresponsibility to maturity an interesting journey, and one reminiscent of Vito Corleone's in the second film. The absence of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen is a disappointment, however; while George Hamilton is adequate enough as the new family lawyer, he's hardly in the same class.
It's become fashionable to describe this film as much weaker than its predecessors; even the positive reviews of it seem to take care to denigrate it in comparison. While it's certainly true that it isn't the all-time masterpiece the other two are, it is a highly accomplished piece of work, and easily up to the same standards as the other two; by the ending, Coppola's skill at showing the family Corleone's rise and fall over around 9 hours is truly one of the greatest cinematic achievements by an American filmmaker of the last century.
As the most recent film in the series, you would expect the picture to be the best, and so it proves to be. While there's still some grain present, the print appears to be in far better condition than the other two films, and so the clean, crisp transfer and strong colours are well served here. It still isn't as good a picture as some films you may have seen, but this is still a very pleasing effort from Paramount.
The 5.1 remix is far better than those on the previous discs; whereas before surround effects were hardly used, the greater scope of the action scenes here means that there is far more use of all the speakers, and the superb soundtrack is once again showcased beautifully. Dialogue is clearly presented, as you would expect, and the overall effect is very good.
Coppola once again contributes a superb commentary, albeit a slightly more defensive one than for the previous two films; it's hard not to feel slightly sorry for him when he speaks of his hurt when his daughter was criticised for what he saw as being his own mistakes as a director, rather than her inexperience as an actress. However, he's equally good on the film as Greek tragedy mixed with grand opera, and he even entertainingly outlines his vision for a fourth film at the end of the track (imagine the Godfather part 2 revisited, and you've got it.) Another great track, and highly worth listening to.
The film is not perfect, unlike its predecessors; there are moments of crassness (such as a dire moment early on where Shire says, of Mary to a priest, 'Hail Mary…oh, excuse me Father'), and the plot is unnecessarily complex at times. However, this is an incredibly underrated film, and about as powerful a meditation on the heart of darkness inside the family as has been seen recently. The picture quality and sound are both excellent, as is Coppola's commentary. Highly recommended