DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
May Contain Spoilers!
Sixteen years after the second and final entry of the loarded Godfather Saga, the third and wholly unnecessary instalment only serves to degrade the legacy of what was clearly one of the great contributions to cinema, ever. The first two movies where masterpieces, slow burn dramas which humanised gangsters in ways which had not been seen before and would forever be the touchstone for years to come.
The Godfather (1972) saw the rise of a decent man, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to that of an evil, ruthless mob leader, whilst the second film, charted his father’s, Vito, originally portrayed by Marlon Brando, the eponymous Godfather but as a younger man in the prequel scenes by rising star, Robert De Niro, but after the depths to which Michael had sunk by the end of Part II, the story was clearly finished.
This is something which Coppola clearly thought himself and had only been persuade to return for the money following his dwindling career, one which would never reach the heights of the original two hits as well as the 1979 Vietnam war film, Apocalypse Now. So why revisit it theatrically and what is wrong with this picture?
Well, firstly, clear nepotism aside, it is not the much derided casting of his daughter, Sofia Coppola, something which has plagued the film since its release, 25 years ago. She is fine, nothing special but fine and it is good to see that she has beaten this unfair critique and made her own name in writing and directing. In fact, it could be argued that it is the over acting of the older leads, especially Pacino and a disappointing Diane Keaton, which lets the film down.
It is important to remember that the Godfather films were made before Scarface (1983), a film which propelled Al Pacino’s career into the stratosphere and created the monster that is the caricature of Al Pacino himself, one which he struggles to shake off here. This is not Michael Corleone, this is Al Pacino at the height of his career, the megastar who has nothing to prove.
This persona is fun in his later films, such as The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and his oscar winning turn in The Scent Of A Woman (1993), but he owes us more here. It is lazy, overdone and short-changes everyone from a cast and the audience. But he is not alone, Coppola himself is guilty of the same. Granted the plot is based on the real events of Papal banking fraud Scandal of the early 80’s and it is nice to create a narrative which was tied in so well to real-life event but it is dull, plodding and forced.
The tone is different also, very much a thriller of the day rather than feeling like the 1970’s drama’s which the first two were and did so well. The feel here is that we are all Godfather fans and we will go irrespective of the quality, this is a franchise in the making. Well, it wasn’t an it isn’t. These were crafted movies, reinventing the cinematic landscape of films like this, leading eventually to their natural successor, not Vincent Corleone (Andy Garcia), Connie Corlione’s son who’s christening served as his Godfather’s, Michael, alibi during the assassination of the heads of the Five Families in the final act of The Godfather (1972), but in fact, Tony Soprano. The Godfather trilogy would now be a HBO drama if made today.
The success of humanising both caricatures of evil men has become commonplace, a worthy challenge for a screenwriter, all thanks in no small part The Godfather.
In short, The Godfather Part III is unnecessary but not unwanted. It is not all bad, the quality is there but it can never reach the heights of the originals and as it attempts to try, it falls flat on its face and this is summed up with final scene in which and ageing Michael Corleone falls of his chair, dead whilst sitting out under the Sicilian sun. A pretentious ending not worthy of its predecessors whose final scenes spoke volumes, whilst this just seems to be nodding to the fans who want, deep down, to see Michael to pay for his sins, in this case compromised by dying old and presumably alone, his daughter taken from him by an assassins bullet on the steps of the Opera House.
Proof that movies of the moment can become timeless, but the well dries up long before their legacies are established.