By Marc S. Sanders
Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo finished out their Corleone trilogy in 1990 with The Godfather Part III. Not so much a sequel, this third film feels more like an epilogue jumping towards Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) elder years as the Don of the most powerful Mafia family in the late 70s/early 80s.
Michael seems exhausted with his rule as he suffers from diabetes as well as remorse for his past sins; especially feeling the guilt of ordering the execution of his brother Fredo.
Still, he is drawn to crime, but on a more sophisticated and righteous nature by taking advantage of the Roman Catholic Church. Michael intends to purchase the powerful bank associated with the church but that’ll have to fall in line with the Pontiff’s agreement. It doesn’t help that the Pope is in failing health. The setup of all this lends to another grand opening where Michael earns a prestigious award from the church in the same tradition of an austere celebration of many guests that lend to character set ups for the film. A Godfather movie is not a Godfather movie without a grand reception to open the film.
The most interesting character is Michael’s nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia), a fierce hot head like his father Sonny. He wants to work for Michael desperately while fending off a street hood boss (Joe Mantegna). An older don also comes into play by the great character actor, Eli Wallach. Diane Keaton as ex-wife Kay is also here but more or less to quietly bicker with Michael. Sister Connie is here, too, with Talia Shire. The Connie character always changes from each movie. Here she’s a deadly black widow. There’s also Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola, contrary to popular opinion, I insist she’s very good in the role). Is Mary a legitimate cover for the family as the spokesperson for a fundraising effort? Is the possibility of Vincent and Mary (as cousins) getting intimate a terrible risk?
I like this film and hold it in high regard. Namely because Coppola and Puzo took an approach straight out of the news when there was an embezzlement scheme occurring within the Vatican bank. The problem for many I believe was that the plot of this grand scheme was not flashy or bloody enough, even if a participant is revealed to be hanging from a London bridge with fraudulent receipts falling out of his pockets…which actually happened in real life.
The film allows many opportunities for Michael to allow his anguish in guilt to flow. Fans grew used to a fierce Michael Corleone from the first two films. The elder Michael here would rather not get involved. Hence the introduction of Garcia’s character. He’s very good in the role. Yet there’s not much dimension to Vincent. He’s a scary violent guy, and a contradiction to what Michael seeks. Yet, thats about all there is. I would have wanted more dimension to this role; the guy destined to carry on the reign.
Sofia Coppola is fine in her part and undeserving of the lashing she received upon the film’s release. She’s Michael’s young daughter; a young adult dangerously close to the fray. The one innocent constant within the family. For me, I found a dramatic stake in her character.
The ending is very powerful. Slowly methodical as the family assembles in Sicily to see Michael’s son’s stage opera debut. There are elements that are consistent with the other films’ endings, but this violent conclusion comes with quite a shocking result. I was really moved by it.
Coppola didn’t measure up to the first two films with this effort. I agree with that. Still, The Godfather Part III is worthy of holding its place in the saga. It carries the traditions of the prior films in set up and music and operatic narrative. Be patient with its slow pace because I think the ending will grab you.