Just when Judge Clark Douglas thought he was out, they pull him back in!
Our reviews of The Godfather: Part III (published July 4th, 2005), The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (published September 23rd, 2008), and The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (Blu-Ray) (published September 29th, 2008) are also available.
All the power on earth can't change destiny.
Let's be honest: The Godfather Part: III is a film which shouldn't exist. Director Francis Ford Coppola had never intended the Godfather series as a trilogy; he felt he had told the entire story he needed to tell in the first two films. Alas, he had fallen on hard times financially after the box office failure of One From the Heart, and Coppola's Zoetrope Studios followed suit after the failure of Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Paramount had been attempting to get a sequel made without Coppola's involvement for years, but circumstances finally pressured the man himself to get involved. Production was something of a nightmare. Robert Duvall refused to return to the series due to the fact that the filmmakers weren't willing to pay him enough, forcing major changes to the script. Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder were both cast in the role of Michael Corleone's daughter Mary at different points, but both dropped out for one reason or another and the role went to Coppola's relatively inexperienced daughter Sofia. Plotting and casting proved chaotic in a variety of ways, and Coppola was ultimately unsatisfied with the finished product. Whether or not the film is worthwhile is a matter of perspective. On its own terms, the film is a fairly thoughtful, involving, low-key gangster movie. In contrast to the earlier films, it's a huge disappointment. It's tempting to say that one should regard the film as its own self-contained thing, but that's hard to do given that the movie leans so heavily on the plot details and dramatic weight of the first two films.
The story catches up with Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, The Scent of a Woman) some twenty years after the events of The Godfather: Part II. Michael is more or less retired at this point, still at the top of the mafia food chain but almost entirely removed from the day-to-day operations of the business. However, the time has come for Michael to attempt to pull off the biggest deal of his career to date. He owns a large amount of stock in the world's largest real estate company, and now he's making an attempt to purchase another large chunk of stock from The Vatican (which would make him the majority shareholder). Alas, completing the deal proves an incredibly complex process, as other mob bosses pressure Michael to let them get involved. Meanwhile, Michael takes his nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia, Ocean's Twelve) under his wing and serves as something of a mentor for the hot-tempered young man. That relationship also gets complicated once Vincent begins romancing Michael's daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), which Michael disapproves of for a variety of reasons.
The Godfather: Part III is a serious-minded movie which has a lot to say about the complicated relationship between business and religion (in some ways, it's almost a predecessor to There Will Be Blood), and many of the pre-existing characters as mere shadows of their former selves. Life has taken a serious toll on Michael and many of those around him, and Coppola presents the concluding chapter of his journey with admirable subtlety and depth. Even so, there's no getting around the fact that this belated addition to the series never comes close to recapturing the dramatic power of the earlier films, ultimately proving a fairly murky and sluggish journey through a story which intrigues us intellectually but never really grabs us emotionally. The film's final act attempts to liven things up with a literally operatic assassination sequence, but even that feels like a pale imitation of the first film's climax.
The cast is inconsistent; something of a surprise given the sheer volume of powerhouse performances which populate the first two films. Pacino's work isn't quite as compelling as it was earlier, but he's still a force to be reckoned with and handles the character's most intense scenes with aplomb. Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) has rather abbreviated screentime, but makes a big impression when she does appear. Sofia Coppola is unquestionably the weak point of the cast, but she isn't quite as bad as her reputation suggests—the fact that she's the director's daughter undoubtedly caused the criticism of her performance to turn a bit nastier than it would have otherwise. Andy Garcia is fine as Vincent, and most of the time he manages to hold his own opposite Pacino. Eli Wallach proves compelling in a turn as a sly, wizened mob boss, and George Hamilton does what he can with a character which is obviously meant to be a Tom Hagen stand-in.
The Godfather: Part III (Blu-ray) looks exactly the same as it did when it was released as part of the Blu-ray box set containing all three films, so there's really nothing new to report. It wasn't given the same level of detailed restoration that the first two flicks were given, but it still looks quite good and benefits from strong, crisp audio. The only supplement is an audio commentary with Coppola, but it's essential listening for fans of the series: the director doesn't hold back one bit when describing his problems with the film and the regrets he has regarding its production (though he also makes a valiant defense for certain elements, including the casting of his daughter).
The Godfather: Part III isn't so atrocious that it deserves to be ignored—it's decent, actually—but it's an awfully disappointing conclusion to a franchise which contains two of the greatest films of all time. "Decent" just isn't good enough for this story.
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