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The Godfather Part 3 (1990,USA)

14/08/2011

Director: Francis Ford Coppola       Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Sofia Coppola

Quick word of warning, this contains spoilers for earlier parts of The Godfather trilogy. Especially (mostly) the trailer.

The Godfather Parts 1  and 2 may well have earned their place amongst the greatest films ever made but they do leave the story somewhat hanging. At the close of the second film it is fairly firmly established that Michael Corleone’s legacy had become one of fear and death rather than the legitimacy he claimed to be seeking at the end of the first part in the saga but what happened next? How did the Corleone family’s fortunes fare in the aftermath of the multiple murders and severe setbacks it experienced in part two? Coppola seeks to address these questions in the third installment, more than twenty five years after he made Part 2 and with much of the original cast. The bigger question is, did lightning strike a third time resulting in a film that stands up to its predecessors? In a word, no.

Michael has finally succeeded in establishing a sense of legitimacy for his family, now a distinct entity from the Corleone crime family and favoured by the Vatican for his charitable works. The plot revolves around a business deal between the Corleone Foundation and the Vatican which sees Michael make enemies both within the Catholic church, where financial corruption is threatened to be exposed by the deal and his former Mafia associates who feel they should be getting a slice of the action from Michael’s  legitimate business dealings. As if this wasn’t enough, Vinny Corleone (Garcia) the illegitmate son of Sonny, is at odds with an established Don and seeks his Uncle Michael’s support in dealing with the issue whilst simultaneously winning the heart of Michael’s daughter Mary. Much treachery, bloodshed and tragedy ensues.

It’s pretty clear from the quality of the film that there were problems behind the scenes on this concluding part to the series. Script issues and casting issues clearly took their toll on what might have been a reasonable effort rather than this disappointing shambles. It was originally intended to revolve around Tom Hagen becoming an informer against Michael but Duvall was getting stiffed on pay by Paramount and turned down the part (in an echo of the reason there was no Brando in part 2) resulting in a total rewrite. Winona Ryder was originally cast as Mary but had to pull out in favour of Edward Scissorhands. Despite numerous possible alternatives, Coppola decided to cast his own daughter Sofia in the role, possibly the biggest error of judgement made when it came to the movie.

The problem is, Sofia Coppola cannot act. Spending most of her time on screen coming across as a doe eyed buffoon, swooning over her first cousin Vinny (actual retort when Michael challenges the morality of dating your first cousin: “Then I’ll love him first” – seriously!) and being generally annoying. You can almost sense the disquiet among the rest of the cast being forced to work with her and do their very best to ignore the fact she is lowering the tone. Michael puts Mary in charge of his charitable foundation in order to help maintain its legitimacy. Coppola putting his daughter in that role completely undermines the film’s legitimacy. She’s not the only one either. Joe Mantegna as Joey Zasa, one of the film’s main villains and a prominent mob boss, appears to be channeling Fat Tony from the Simpsons in a particularly risible fashion.

It’s unfair to lay the blame for the film’s inadequacies entirely at Sofia and Joe’s doors. Plotwise, it becomes a rehash of part 2, the family coming under attack from rivals but at a distance, via intermediaries. People who on the face of it appear to be friends prove themselves enemies, Michael doles out advice to his nephew Vinny that has been heard in two films already. There’s even a “tying up the loose ends” assassination montage near the end a la part 1. All good and well but done before and done better. By the same people.

The only people who manage to salvage any dignity out of things are Al Pacino and Diane Keaton. Pacino, as always, is excellent (although his artificial aging is a little bit distracting) playing Michael now as an old man riddled with shame and regret for the things he has done and desperately eager to repent for his sins. As the story plays out he begins a reconciliation with his estranged wife Kay who, in a subtle performance from Keaton, seems to be prepared to forgive him for his transgressions if only for the sake of their children. These elements prove far more interesting than the constant machinations of the mob, at least as far as this film is concerned, and I would have much rathered Coppola had explored these avenues more fully rather than including them as side threads to the larger conspiracy plot.

Then there’s the running time. Almost three hours long, the film is bloated and unwieldly and seemingly just for the sake of it. It could easily lose an hour without impacting on the story in any way whatsoever and had Coppola done so it might have dispelled the suspicion that he has confused the idea of a film being epic with a film being really long. Scope and duration are two different things Francis. Doubtlessly, Paramount’s insistence that the film be at least 140 minutes long has a lot to answer for but that still leaves half an hour that could have been clipped, preferrably half an hour of Sofia Coppola’s greeting face.

Yes, they needed to conclude the story. Yes, it should have covered Michael’s regret and guilt at the life he has led. There is just too much wrong with it to be able to defend it though. Having said that, if you have seen the first two you should probably watch this one too if only to get a sense of closure on the Coreleone saga. Lined up with an ordinary, run of the mill mobster movie it would carry itself quite well, but as a follow up to its predecessors it’s an epic disappointment that leaves you wondering what might have been.

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