The Godfather Part III Review
The overwhelming impression I am left with after watching The Godfather Part Three is one of frustration. It's easy to see the flaws in the film but just as easy to identify the virtues and it's certainly not as bad as its reputation would suggest. But somehow it doesn't fall into place the way the other two films did and it's difficult to suppress a certain disappointment. Having said that, this is still a very interesting and intelligent film which has the power to move even while you feel mildly irritated.
The writers, Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo, wanted to call the film "The Death of Michael Corleone" - a fact alluded to frequently in the commentary - but were overruled by the studio who, not unreasonably, thought it would be more commercially viable to have the word "Godfather" in the title; hence, "Part Three". The slightly mournful tone of the original title is carried over to the film however and the result is one of the most downbeat mainstream films ever made. That's not a criticism incidentally; it's hard to imagine any other way to end the story in fact. The key point is that it's not just Michael's physical death being presented here, it's his total spiritual death. Twenty years have passed since the end of Part Two and Michael (Pacino) has become a philanthropist, desperately attempting to cleanse his soul by throwing vast sums of money at the Catholic Church. In tribute to his good works, the Vatican presents him with the Order Of St.Sebastian at a ceremony in New York, thus allowing each film in the trilogy to begin with a religious ritual. Michael has changed since the earlier film; he looks old and tired and yet somehow vital and alert as if the threat of eternal damnation has given him a reason to live. It's a fascinating development and it allows Pacino to deliver another stunning performance, this time as the ageing king who wants to make his peace with God before he dies. He's surrounded in the story with an explicitly Shakespearean array of characters; the Bastard (Garcia) - Vincent, illegitimate son of Sonny, who wants to make his mark in the family; the scheming Patrician who sees a final chance for glory - Don Altobello (Wallach); the restrained but cruelly inventive woman whose endless plotting is the undoing of any man daft enough to listen - Connie (Shire), blossoming into something resembling Goneril from "King Lear"; and the innocent whose attempts to be a good daughter end up backfiring rather spectacularly - Michael's beloved daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola). Add in a variety of shifty courtiers, a splendidly self-righteous competitor in the shape of Joey Zasa (Mantegna) and a touching might-have-been edge to the relationship between Michael and his ex-wife Kay (Keaton) and you have all the ingredients for a fine successor to the first two movies. This impression is enhanced by the twisting plot which is inspired by the "God's Banker" scandal of the late seventies, involving the awesomely influential Vatican Bank and a wonderfully sleazy array of shifty bad guys.
Indeed, there are moments which are just as fine as anything in the rest of the trilogy. The scene where Michael makes his first confession for thirty years to a saintly Cardinal (Vallone) is a great moment because of the emotional truth it contains and is probably the most subtle acting that Pacino has done since his career renaissance in 1989. This is an interesting departure for him; bar some intense moments, Michael's impotence and tired heartbreak is a lot more underplayed than your usual Pacino role. The contained power of Michael is just the same as it was in Part Two but there's a gentle sadness about the performance here that is just right for the direction in which Coppola has taken the story. You may or may not like this direction, but within that context it's a stunning performance. Michael's ruthlessness has faded into an impotent sense of loss - something which is clearly borrowed from De Niro's somewhat similar performance in Leone's Once Upon A Time In America - and this allows the tragedy to be all the more effective. Michael is still damned, no question about it, but, as Coppola explains in the commentary, he hasn't yet suffered enough, so in this film he is subjected to the greatest torment any parent can experience. Coppola's personal experiences clearly inform this characterisation, especially the intense feeling of love for one's children - in 1986 his son Gio had died in a boating accident, something which clearly affected his father deeply and that feeling of loss comes out strongly both in this film and the underrated, deeply moving Gardens Of Stone from 1987.
The supporting cast is not as solid as in the previous two films and this is a problem. The convincing world evoked in those movies is not present here and this means that Pacino sometimes seems to be acting in a vacuum. The most entertaining performance is given by Donal Donnelly as the Archbishop in charge of the Vatican Bank - he's quite as riveting here as he was in Huston's The Dead. The absence of Robert Duvall is keenly felt - the last remaining Corleone brother and he's not here. George Hamilton is fine as his replacement but he doesn't have anything to do and there is no frisson between him and Michael since they don't seem to share a past. Joe Mantegna is fun as Joey Zasa but exits too soon and Eli Wallach isn't really given a chance to be as menacing as he promises to be. The family members fare slightly better, at least in two cases. Talia Shire has grown in ability since Part Two and she seems to relish the chance to make Connie the power behind the throne once Michael throws in the towel. Andy Garcia is equally good as Vincent. He has the same charismatic unpredictability as James Caan and he has obviously studied Caan's performance - the random shout is just right and he is visually right too. Unfortunately, the third family member does not fare so well. I don't want to add to the miles of vitriolic newsprint attacking Sofia Coppola because she's really not all that bad considering she's not an actress and can't cope with the more emotional scenes. It's obvious from the commentary that Coppola cast her for personal reasons and he considers that no-one else could have played the part, but the problem is that she isn't able to convince in the key relationship with Vincent and this leaves the centre of the film fatally flawed. Her disastrous reading of the line "Dad" at the end is also a huge disappointment. Winona Ryder might not have been much better but at least she could have delivered the lines with a little more conviction.
Coppola's direction is sturdy and reliable without being particularly exciting. He stages some big set-pieces but the spark of excitement is largely missing. The scene where the assembled mobsters are attacked by an assailant with a machine gun in a helicopter is quite exciting but a little perfunctory as if Coppola were simply trying to include some action for the less patient viewers. The final twenty minutes, backed by the glorious strains of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana", are an improvement as the fates of the conspirators are intercut with an attempt on Michael's life. This builds to a powerful climax on the steps of the Opera House and a genuinely moving series of flashbacks. But the heart of the film lies in the quieter moments; the confession in the garden, Michael begging Mary to give up her love for Vincent and the beautifully poignant scene where Michael takes Kay on a tour of his home town; a scene full of subtle shadings of regret and lost time that transcends virtually every other emotional moment in the film.
The elegance of Gordon Willis's lighting in the first two films is somewhat lacking here - too much of the movie is shot in even light conditions and this has a serious effect on the overall atmosphere - notably in the scene where Michael first discusses the Vatican Bank problem with the Archbishop. Although the intention was clearly to suggest the lengthy plot-setup of the original film, the bright light lacks any suggestive quality and the Archbishop lacks any ambiguity. This disappointing cinematography is matched by the script. Along with some dud lines, the narrative is much too convoluted for the simple events depicted. The "McGuffin" about Mobiliare, the company in which the Vatican are majority stockholders, is needlessly drawn out once you grasp the idea that some people want the Corleone family to take over and some don't. The last half hour isn't as clear as it could be either and the inability of Mosca, apparently the world's most feared assassin, to put some bullets through Michael becomes a little farcical. His aim is hopeless too. The only areas where the film is in the same technical lead as its predecessors are the editing which supplies pace not always provided by the director, Dean Tavoularis' ever superb production design and the richly evocative music score by Carmine Coppola which captures the tone of the film perfectly.
So, to sum up my rather lengthy views on the film, I have to sit on the fence. Yes, it's sometimes silly, not all that atmospheric and suffers from casting mistakes. But it also contains moments which are just as powerully memorable as anything in the first two films and Al Pacino gives what is, for my money, one of the greatest performances in film history, spread out over three films. It's essential viewing for fans of the first two films and it is probably they who will get the most out of the film. I find it annoying, frustrating and sometimes unintentionally funny - Kay's line, "I don't fear you Michael, I dread you", is rather unfortunate. But I also find it affecting, suspenseful and ultimately heartbreaking - in other words, messy but fascinating - and any film which impacts on me so deeply must have something going for it.
The lengthy clean-up process that was undertaken on the first two Godfather films was not as necessary here, given that the film is just over 10 years old. This means that this disc looks slightly better than others in the box set. As before, the extras are mostly contained on a fourth disc although the director's commentary is pretty impressive on its own.
The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.85:1 and it looks very good indeed. The more even lighting of the film means that encoding problems are less noticable and the level of contrast is much improved. It's not perfect by any means - I noticed quite a few overly-soft moments here and there and some print damage in places. But there is less grain throughout and surprisingly little artifacting. Overall this is the best of the transfers, but then you would expect it to be. One small problem I noted - on three different players - was some strange shimmering here and there but this may be a review copy problem.
The soundtrack is considerably more eventful on this disc as well. Wheras the first two films, with their Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks of monophonic originals, barely used the surround channels, this one - from a Dolby Stereo original - is more interesting. Dialogue is nicely separated and there are some very impressive surround moments too. The helicopter scene is particularly good. The music envelops you in places, and "Cavalleria Rusticana" sounds glorious.
The only extra on the disc is the director's commentary. Coppola is in fine form here and he fiercely defends both the film and his daughter's performance. Many of his points were valid - he makes no attempt to hide the fact that the film was made for the money as much as anything else - and his obvious love of the film is a pleasure to listen to. If you are a hater of the movie, as many people are, this commentary may help you to get a different perspective on what Coppola and Mario Puzo were trying to do. An honourable ambitious failure is usually more interesting than average small-scale competence.
There are 25 chapter stops and three main menus which cycle when you go back to them from a sub-menu.
I readily admit that The Godfather Part Three is disappointing and a little unnecessary after the powerful tragedy of the previous film. But it's certainly not a bad film and has much more in its favour than a lot of people have claimed. The DVD is really rather good and is thus recommended.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:41:35