- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- Writers: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
- Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton, Sofia Coppola, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, and Donal Donnelly
- Accolades: 7 Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Director – Francis Ford Coppola, Best Supporting Actor – Andy Garcia, Best Original Song – “Promise Me You’ll Remember,” Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction)
- Where to Watch: Buy or rent on Amazon Video, YouTube, and Apple TV
The reputation of The Godfather Part III is, well, not great, certainly in comparison to the first two installments of the “trilogy.” That is probably not surprising, given that it was produced sixteen years after Part II. Director Francis Ford Coppola was in financial difficulty after the financial disaster of One for the Heart, and so finally acquiesced to years of pushing from Paramount to return to his most profitable property. On the thirtieth anniversary of the movie’s original release, Coppola chose to return his third installment, with a re-edited version being released this month titled The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (that’s both a comma and a colon, in case you’re keeping score). Coppola insists that the movie, down to the title, is now how he always wanted, though it’s not as if Paramount was sitting over his shoulder back in 1990 forcing him to make certain edits. And in any case, as with the additions George Lucas made to Star Wars, it is still very much the same movie, for better or worse.
For much of its length, I found this movie uniformly uninteresting and uninspired. It seems as if it has more sequences of “hits” and violence than earlier installments, it is more action and less of a slow burn, yet each individual sequence is less thought out. There is a bit partway through where a helicopter descends on a meeting of mafia dons and opens fire with a machine gun. It is not only, as a concept, completely out of place in the sepia-toned Godfather movies, it is completely half-baked in execution. There’s a convoluted plot that somehow involves both corporate board meetings and the Pope simultaneously. But then the movie reaches a final half-hour sequence set at a Palermo Opera House (at which the son of Al Pacino’s long-suffering don Michael, Anthony, is making his opera debut), and it is one of the best sequences I’ve seen a movie. Coppola deftly raises tension for what seems like forever, cutting between numerous family members and their enemies, to symbolic bits of the opera (which appears to involve both mafia-esque scenes and the crucifixion of Christ), to machinations taking place elsewhere, including an archbishop being gunned down and falling down the center of a seemingly endless spiral staircase. At the very end (spoilers for a thirty-year-old-movie coming up), Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), the most innocent of all our players, is killed by a bullet meant for him on the steps of the opera house, he screams in full-on Al Pacino horror, and then the movie’s final scene is him, old and alone in his Sicilian garden. In the original cut, he suddenly keels over dead in this final scene, but in the movie actually titled The Death of Michael Corleone, he does not.
In the minds of many fans and reviewers, the movie’s greatest sin is the casting of the director’s own daughter Sofia Coppola as Michael’s doomed on-screen daughter. Her performance was widely derided, and he was accused of engaging in the worst kind of nepotism. First of all, it seems more like she stepped in at the last minute after a series of others dropped out for various reasons than that she insisted on the part. Winona Ryder had a nervous breakdown just as shooting was about to start. Before that, Julia Roberts took the role before dropping out, then Rebecca Schaeffer was cast before she was murdered by an insane stalker. I found most of the younger Coppola’s performance perfectly fine, though she is clearly not a professional actress. There are a few very wooden scenes that are Birdemic level bad, however, which is likely how this whole thing started. In any case, it may all have been a blessing, as Sofia Coppola gave up on a career in acting and decided she wanted to direct. She has since given us several great movies, with more presumably to come.
In my mind, the biggest issue with this movie is that it spends most of its running time repeating bits of the previous movies that were, for the most part, done better then. This, I think, is not an accident, or a failure of imagination, but a purposeful way of showing Michael living an ever-hollower version of his father’s life. That doesn’t make it more interesting to watch. There’s a big opening party, furtive speculation about who “the traitor” is, lots of stilted conversations with aging dons in their wicker chairs beneath palm trees, and a final set piece in which all relevant scores are settled. Of these, only this movie’s version of the latter is particularly interesting. The best part of the rest is a brash, hot-headed performance from Andy Garcia as Vincent, an illegitimate son of Michael’s brother Sonny (James Caan from the first movie), who constantly wants to solve the family’s problems with violence. The biggest casualty of the new edit is Bridget Fonda as his non-Italian girlfriend, most of her performance seems to have been excised.
The Godfather Part III is clearly a flawed movie, in whatever edit, or at least one that doesn’t quite justify its own existence for much of its running time. However, though I am certainly not the target audience for these movies, for me that last half hour is the best thing in any of these movies. Never has opera been so exciting. Which is what this movie thinks it is, an opera. Therein lies the contrast between this movie and the other gangster saga of 1990, Goodfellas. Both end in disappointment, but this movie’s thesis is that the mafia lifestyle leads inexorably to a bleak, lonely end. It is likely not what its audience wanted at the time, but I found it far more satisfying than any sort of happy ending would have been.