Published on January 16th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
The Godfather Part III 
Summary: Taken on its own, this black sheep is a well-made picture about life's vicious cycle and gives us a fitting final, tortured look at one of cinema's great characters. But there's no question the movie lags behind its immaculate predecessors when compared. Pacino keeps us engaged but iffy casting and a scatterbrained plot keep it from soaring.
R | 162 min.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo
Distribution: Paramount Pictures
U.S. Box Office: $66.6 million (#17 of 1990)
Sofia Coppola didn’t ruin The Godfather Part III. Money and pride did.
But to say the third and final installment of American cinema’s most heralded movie saga was ruined at all is a common misnomer. Is Part III as satisfying a film as its two forerunners? Definitely not but this black sheep has moments that are every bit as good as anything in The Godfather series.
Sixteen years after The Godfather Part II repeated its predecessor’s critical and commercial successes by winning six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Part III was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture and earned $136.7 million at the worldwide box office.
But, like Tom Hagen, Part III simply didn’t feel like it was a true member of the family. And like Fredo Corleone, the movie just doesn’t have all the working parts its favored brothers possess.
Director Francis Ford Coppola, who again co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Mario Puzo, tries from the outset to make this entry echo with the sights and sounds of the original two films. We open once again at a large party, with aging Godfather Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) once again being honored — this time by the Roman Catholic Church, who play prominently in the plot of Part III.
It’s 1979, about 20 years removed from the action of Part II, and Michael is still chasing legitimacy. A letter read in voice over from Michael to his adult children Anthony and Mary reveals that he cares for them and is still estranged from their mother Kay (Diane Keaton). The foursome is reunited at the party with some tension between the two ex-spouses.
“Every family has bad memories,” Michael says to Kay, with the audience being reminded explicitly of the way he brutally had his older brother Fredo murdered after a betrayal in Part II. This early exchange between the pair of veteran actors is clunky, especially when Keaton says, “I preferred you when you were just a common mafia hood.” Pacino answers, “I did all I could to protect you from the horrors of this world.” To which she finishes, “But you became my horror.” It plays as cheesy, an adjective you could never use to describe dialogue in the first two movies.
We meet a lot of new faces in the opening party sequence, which, like the other films lasts over 30 minutes. Chief among those unrecognized figures are Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone and Andy Garcia as Vincent Corleone, the spawn of Michael’s late eldest brother Sonny. Both of these casting choices end up hurting Part III in the long run but for now we’ll focus on young Sofia Coppola.
Barely 19 years old upon the film’s release, Coppola’s acting chops are meager at best, which would have been fine in a high school teen flick but standing alongside one of the best actors in cinema history makes her look even more wooden. First off, Mary is supposed to be nearly 30 years old based on the timeline of the series but she’s played like a rebellious teenager. When we first see Coppola, she’s smoking cigarettes and sheepishly flirting with Vincent, her first cousin, who ends up becoming her lover. There is something naturally dangerous in Sofia Coppola’s gorgeous brown eyes though that adds an air of mischief to the character. When people rip on The Godfather Part III they typically begin with Coppola’s performance but my chief gripe with this picture is the lack of another performer.
All throughout the opening sequence it’s fun spotting the myriad familiar faces. There’s Talia Shire (Francis Coppola’s sister) back as Connie Corleone. Oh, and there’s Diane Keaton returning as Kay! Even Al Martino is back playing Johnny Fontane again … but where is Robert Duvall? We have to wait a few more scenes to find out from a mundane piece of passing dialogue that Duvall’s character Tom Hagen died somehow in the time since the previous movie.
That’s it. One of the most well-played supporting characters in modern film history is written off with a glib line and never mentioned again. That’s what keeps this picture from truly belonging with the others.
The story goes that Paramount Pictures was paying Pacino three to four times what Duvall’s paycheck would have been for Part III, which the latter took as an insult. Duvall is quoted as saying, “If they paid Pacino twice what they paid me, that’s fine, but not three or four times.” As I said above, money and pride are what hurt this film most.
Hagen’s presence is dearly missed because he was truly the last person Michael could confide in and he was the steadiest member of the Corleone family. I just can’t believe Paramount wouldn’t do whatever it took to protect the legacy of its most-heralded franchise. Ultimately Hagen’s part is replaced with an unmemorable lawyer character named B.J.
Yes that’s right, B.J.
Now to the other performance that threatens to derail this film: Andy Garcia. I have no issue with the fact that Garcia is Cuban — after all, neither Marlon Brando or James Caan had a shred of Italian ancestry — but his performance just isn’t nearly as magnetic as the script wants his character to be. In a making-of feature included in The Godfather trilogy DVD set, Francis Ford Coppola described Garcia’s Vincent as being a combination of all three Corleone brothers. Most of the time it just feels like he’s putting on a tough guy routine, which is an affectation you never got from Caan, who felt like a legitimate badass in the first Godfather.
The problem with Vincent being the second lead is that he is essentially Sonny Corleone reincarnated, but much less likable. The reason Sonny worked so wonderfully was because he contrasted Michael and Fredo perfectly. But there’s a reason Sonny wasn’t the main character — he’s too brash and pig-headed to watch for 3 hours. Also, James Caan was endearing because he had a great smile with this large personality and a fierce love for his family which he wore on his sleeve. With Garcia’s Vincent we never see a shred of personality and we never really grow to like him, let alone care for him. His loyalty is also never clear to us.
Garcia, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in the film, does however have some of the most memorable scenes from Part III. For instance, in one scene with Joe Mantegna, who plays a secondary antagonist, Vincent nearly bites the latter’s ear clean off in repayment for a whispered insult. This really is one of the movie’s most entertaining scenes because of the back and forth between Mantegna, Garcia, Shire and Pacino; it’s one of the film’s highlights. Another great scene between the same pair takes place during a massive sequence at an outdoor festival. Basically, all of Garcia’s best scenes involve Joe Mantegna.
Acting-wise, a review of The Godfather Part III is unfair without heaping praise onto Al Pacino for once again turning in an electric performance. In this film, we see Michael Corleone’s body breaking down, as he’s diagnosed with diabetes after falling unconscious on his kitchen floor. This scene is without question the best part of the movie and I’d put it alongside any of the best moments from the series.
In this intense and cryptic scene, Pacino unleashes the film’s most classic line, “Just when I thought I was out …. they pull me back in!,” with all the dejection and exhaustion he can muster. Seconds later, as he’s about to collapse, he utters, “Our true enemy has not yet shown his face.” That line gives you something to think about. It was succinctly written and expertly delivered, making for one of the best moments in the entire Godfather canon.
Another fantastic scene comes later as Michael kneels beside the corpse of a trusted mentor, praying to God for one last shot at redemption. In this scene, the character again shows his selfishness by swearing on the lives of his children. As usual, Coppola and Puzo don’t allow any sins to go unanswered, leading to Michael’s final undoing.
One of the best scenes from The Godfather Part III, or any movie.
The dense script certainly has its high points but overall, it just seems like the co-writers got lost peppering real-life Illuminati conspiracy theories and anti-Catholic church rhetoric into the pages. While the first film kept its focus squarely on the power — and danger — of mixing family with business, and the second film widened its focus to spread a message about the American dream, this one goes for broke by attempting to link the Catholic church’s inner workings to that of organized crime. It’s just boring filler when you’re trying to pay attention to a story about one man and his family.
I also feel like the screenplay casts an extremely negative light on Italian-American people, much more so than the first two Godfather pictures. Part III shows the majority of its Italian characters as either incestuous, conniving or self-absorbed. The only speaking characters in the film that aren’t negatively portrayed are full-blown WASPs like Kay or half-WASPs like Anthony Corleone.
But Puzo and Coppola’s script isn’t all bad. They show us a Michael Corleone that is desperate to cleanse the blood from his past but all the while paving a foreboding path that leads to a narrow, pitch-dark tunnel which the character can’t help heading into. Along the way, we get some fantastic lines and in the end, a tense climactic sequence that unfolds inside a Sicilian opera house.
“The Prince of Darkness” Gordon Willis returns to Coppola’s side to shoot the picture with his signature shadow-cloaked composition. The picture, like its predecessors, is shot with safe, elegant angles; in short, don’t expect anything flashy in the presentation of Part III. Also returning are composer Carmine Coppola (Francis’ father) and the familiar musical refrains of Nino Rota. The pieces Rota put together for the first Godfather film are as recognizable as any film music and as connected to the series as Pacino is — but honestly the musical pieces felt a little well-worn in Part II, let alone hearing them again in this one. Would it have killed them to compose another signature piece during the 16-year layoff between movies?
Much of the disdain for The Godfather Part III will never be surmounted because many people who haven’t even bothered to watch it will say that it’s a pile of shit. It’s often a foregone conclusion that a movie will be awful if you sit down expecting it to be but there is still a lot to like about this well-crafted movie, including a masterful performance from its star. The returning characters are ones that we love, making it fun to see Michael interacting with Connie and Kay. It’s also wonderful that in this film, the cannoli is the gun. And where else do you get to see a guy get stabbed in the throat with his own eyeglasses?
The last words uttered before one brutal face-to-face slaying state, “Power wears out those who don’t have it.” It would seem that the message of this film — and The Godfather series as a whole — is that it does the same to those who do have it.