Oh boy. Twenty years after the events of The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone is still the head of his family, and is being awarded a religious title after gifting the church $100 million Mob enforcer Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) is making problems for the Corleone family, Michael’s illegitimate nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) looks to be more involved with the family business, Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) takes a romantic interest in Vincent, and Michael’s son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) plucks up the courage – with the help of his mother Kay (Diane Keaton), who divorced Michael many years ago – to tell his father that he plans to drop out of law school and become a singer instead.
Not being very familiar with the Godfather films until recently, the one thing I absolutely did know was that of the three, the trilogy closer has by far the worst reputation. Coppola has admitted it was produced entirely for financial reasons, was hurriedly written and completed in a generally unsatisfactory way, resulting in an incomprehensible plot, terrible dialogue and horrible casting decisions, as well as a lead performance with barely any connective tissue to the earlier films in the saga. Also, a huge portion of the story deals with a relationship between first cousins, which just feels really icky, especially when they keep on calling each other “Cuz” at every opportunity.
I think a major flaw of this film is that it’s just not all that interesting. It’s missing the supporting cast of characters I gave a damn about in the earlier films. There’s no Fredo, no Tom, Vito, Sonny. No-one with any real depth to them to fill these roles. Instead we get paper thin caricatures. Vincent is supposedly Sonny’s son, so the writers opted for the laziest character interpretation by just layering Sonny’s short-fuse and rage onto a character with nothing else going for it, and multiplying the anger’s intensity by ten. Joe Mantegna plays a very flat “other mobster” and whilst it’s always a joy to see Eli Wallach on screen, I have no idea who his character is in relation to anyone else. And Sofia Coppola is not what one would describe as a great actress. She has explained that she didn’t want to be in the film and told her father she was wrong for the part, but he apparently insisted, thus she is absolved from blame. And whilst she isn’t terrible, the scenes she shares one-on-one with Pacino really highlight her shortcomings as a performer.
There’s a cool scene involving a helicopter that shows how the modern world is interacting with these time-old traditions and essentially ripping them apart – also shown by Vincent’s attire, wearing a leather jacket and red shirt in comparison to everyone else’s far more formal dress – and some business involving an assassination attempt at the opera late in the film that for the most part works well, but this is most certainly a franchise that should have stopped at two. The only real reasons to watch this involve comparisons that can then be drawn to earlier films. Normally with a trilogy ending on a poor film it somehow makes the earlier films seem worse, but here The Godfather Part III miraculously manages to make those first two seem even deeper and more rich, and not just comparatively. Themes – such as the manner of death of Vito Corleone compared to the ultimate fate of Michael – become clearer with part three than without, but not enough to justify making this. How this got voted onto Empire magazine’s top 500 films of all time I’ll never know.
Choose Life 5/10