Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
In any trilogy of films, one movie has to be third best. So it is with The Godfather, Part III, which had the misfortune to follow up two of the greatest films of all time. Because it could not help but fall far short of its predecessors—director Francis Ford Coppola was definitely not at the top of his game by 1990 and agreed to make the film because, frankly, he needed the money—Part III has come to be remembered as a stinker. Yet few people remember that it was originally released to largely glowing reviews and received 7 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (it lost to Dances with Wolves, which if anything is less warmly remembered than Part III). So be it, then; if the final chapter of the Godfather saga is to be saddled with the curse of its illustrious past, perhaps it is entirely appropriate, given the nature of the film itself.
I remarked last week that the theme of the Godfather, Part II is family. If Part III has a theme, it is redemption, the ways it can be sought, and whether it can ever truly be achieved. As the film begins, it is the year 1979; nearly 20 years have past since the climactic events at the end of Part II. Like the first two movies, Part III opens with a celebration: the Corleone family is making a charitable donation to the Catholic church in the amount of $100 million. Don Michael Corleone possesses unimaginable wealth and power, yet he is a hollow husk of a man, crippled by diabetes and haunted by his assassination of his brother Fredo, an act he fears may have cost him his soul. He has spent the last two decades laboring to make his empire completely legitimate, like he promised his wife Kay back in 1945. Two men stand in his way: Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), who has taken over the Corleone family rackets, and Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone, who was born to the Mafia lifestyle and yearns to exercise the power he believes he deserves. As Michael's life in mainstream society begins to collide with his past in the underworld, will he display the strength of character to redeem himself, or will the poison in his soul corrupt everything he now claims to revere?
Points to ponder:
- Part III is notable for two somewhat questionable casting decisions: Robert Duvall wanted more money than the producers were prepared to pay, so they killed off the Tom Hagen character before the film began and introduced a new character played by tanned pretty-boy George Hamilton (thankfully, the character stays in the background for most of the film). And when Winona Ryder dropped out of the production due to "exhaustion," Coppola filled the Mary Corleone role with his daughter Sofia, who was universally panned in the role. Sofia Coppola has all but retired from acting and turned her hand to directing; her 1999 movie The Virgin Suicides was universally well received, with most critics giving it higher marks than anything father Francis has done lately. Here's to people finding their niche.
- The events in the film takes place in 1979 and 1980, which raises the interesting notion that in the alternate universe where the trilogy takes place, the Corleone crime family was still going strong under Don Michael when the first two films were released. And although the film was released in 1990, the very final scene, according to The Godfather DVD Collection, takes place circa 1997.