RETRO REVIEW – ‘The Godfather Part III’

Review by J.T. Johnson

4-stars

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 20, 1990
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gordon Willis
WRITERS: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
MUSIC: Carmine Coppola

After the release of “The Godfather Part II” in 1974, Paramount told director Francis Ford Coppola that he had an open invitation to direct a second sequel should he ever desire to do so. For years afterwards, Coppola thought that the story was finished with the second film. However, due to a dire financial situation after filming “One from the Heart” caused Coppola to consider the idea of a new movie.

Seeing that the story was fully told in the first two films, Coppola wanted to make what he considered an epilogue to the series. Back when Coppola shot “Part II”, Paramount wanted him to change the title because audiences would not want to go see a numbered sequel. In a twist of irony, Coppola and co-writer Mario Puzo wanted to call this film “The Death of Michael Corleone”, but Paramount said that the movie had to be called “The Godfather Part III”.

Released in 1990, the movie received a mixed critical reception, but it was successful at the box office and nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture. Today, the film is seen as the ultimately inferior sequel to the first two films and this means that most people just don’t like the movie. While I will admit that it is the weakest entry in the trilogy, I don’t think it is anywhere near as bad as people make it out to be.

First off, lets go ahead and get the negative elements out of the way, because the movie is flawed. First off, while I do think that Al Pacino gives another great performance as Michael Corleone, he does have a couple of scenes where he overacts. It also doesn’t help his performance that he is having to wear make-up to make him appear older than he was at that time.

That’s the minor flaw, though, when compared to the major flaw that every critic of the film loves to bring up. In the movie, Sofia Coppola was cast as Mary Corleone, Michael’s innocent daughter and the potential love interest of Vincent Mancini, played by Andy Garcia. To put it simply, she’s just horribly miscast in the role and gives a very average and uninspired performance.

Originally, Mary was supposed to have been played by Winona Ryder, but do to scheduling conflicts, Ryder had to step out of the role at the last minute. Coppola was a last minute replacement and it definitely shows in the movie. I will say, in the film’s defense, that her character is not featured very heavily in the movie and even though it is a distraction, Coppola’s performance by no means ruins the entire movie.

Beyond those issues, I really enjoyed re-watching this film. The story is a particular highlight, showing that Michael became even more successful after the events of “Part II”. He is mostly out of the family business and simply wants to make a deal with the Vatican Bank. Michael will help get them out of debt if the Bank will give him shares in Internazionale Immobiliare, an international real estate company that will make Michael richer than ever and secure his family’s future with the legitimate business empire that he’s always wanted.

Of course, his old Mafia ties soon show back up and he must do what he can to sever all ties to organized crime. In the meantime, he is also dealing with the weight of the horrible deeds he did in the first two films. There is a scene where Michael confesses his crimes and breaks down over the fact that he ordered the death of his brother Fredo, the crime that truly haunts him in his later years.

Michael’s quest for redemption and securing his family’s future is a good direction to take this final entry and the movie’s story is also helped by the introduction of  a new character beyond Michael. Garcia plays Vincent, the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone from the first film. When we first meet him, he is nothing more than hot headed thug who wants to help Michael.

Michael is impressed with Vincent’s loyalty to the family and decides to mentor him. Throughout the film, Vincent becomes a more level headed character and someone that could be the heir apparent to the aging Michael. While Coppola was horribly miscast as Mary, Garcia was perfectly cast as Vincent.

Garcia perfectly transforms into a new Don. He is so good, in fact, that a small part of me wishes that Coppola and Puzo had finished their script for “The Godfather Part IV”. That’s only a small part of me, of course, because despite its flaws “The Godfather Part III” is a suitable conclusion to the trilogy and nowhere near as bad as its worst critics make it out to be.

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