The Godfather Part III
November 9, 2005
Why? This is the question that many people asked themselves before and after seeing Francis Ford Coppola’s third (and hopefully last) installment of The Godfather saga. The first two parts were such perfect meditations on violence and the absolute corrupting effect of money and power on an individual. The way Part II ended was a darkly poetic conclusion that nothing else really needed to be said.
Apparently, Coppola thought otherwise and went back to the well one more time with Part III (1990). The problem is that he waited too long. Too many years had passed and he had changed as a filmmaker. Almost going mad making Apocalypse Now (1979) and the commercial and critical failure of The Cotton Club (1984) had taken its toll on the man. Hollywood had changed and this is reflected in the movie. First and foremost is the casting: Andy Garcia? Bridget Fonda? George Hamilton?! They are fine actors in their own right but are they really acceptable substitutes for the likes of James Caan, John Cazale and Robert Duvall? Granted the first two played characters that died in Parts I and II but the miscasting of these actors speaks volumes of what is wrong with so many movies coming out of Hollywood these days. Actors are cast for their marquee value and not because they are necessarily right for the role.
The film opens with a haunting shot of the Corleone’s Lake Tahoe compound. It is empty and desolate, a reflection of Michael’s heart. He is still trying to go legit and hopes to achieve this by being embraced by the Church and by giving generously to several charitable causes and organizations – as if he could buy his way into respectability. Michael is also looking for a successor: his nephew Vincent (Garcia), a brash hothead just like his father, Sonny Corleone. Vincent’s smoldering good looks and dangerous charisma attracts Michael’s daughter, Mary (Coppola) and they become romantically involved. Michael also has to watch out for rival gangster, Joey Zasa (Mantegna), who has taken over Michael’s Mafia business and has a beef with Vincent who, in turn, wants to kill Joey and take over.
Much was made at the time of the casting of Sofia Coppola. While she certainly can’t act, she did her best under the circumstances (Winona Ryder dropped out due to illness and Sofia quickly stepped in to help out her old man) and let’s leave it at that. On the plus side, the whole debacle motivated Sofia to find her true vocation behind the camera as a successful director.
Andy Garcia pulls off a pale imitation of James Caan’s Sonny. A lot of shouting and shoving guys around does not convey the true menace and toughness that Caan had. This becomes painfully obvious in a scene that Garcia has with Joe Mantegna and Al Pacino, both of whom easily upstage him. Poor Pacino looks lost in this movie. Being the consummate pro that he is, the veteran actor still rises to the challenge and shows the occasional glimmer of brilliance but he really isn’t given much to do as crazy as that sounds.
The Godfather Part III has the feeling of a paycheck movie because it lacks the passion of the first two parts. In the ‘90s, Coppola’s generation of Movie Brats had fallen on hard times. Brian De Palma and William Friedkin had become hired guns with erratic track records. Steven Spielberg had become absorbed by the Hollywood system and Martin Scorsese remade Cape Fear (1991). The Godfather Part III was Coppola’s attempt to regain box office clout within Hollywood but instead he was crucified by critics for his troubles.
Carried over from the box set is Coppola’s audio commentary. One of the heated debates the filmmaker had with the studio was over Pacino’s hair. He wanted Michael to look older and like a man in crisis, while the studio didn’t want to mess with Pacino’s distinctive looks. Coppola defends his casting of Sofia and feels that she delivered a “real” performance because she wasn’t an actor. He also addresses the scathing criticism she received as in fact an attack on him. Coppola explains that the film differs from the other Godfather movies because it is about the death of Michael Corleone. This is a solid track with good observations and analysis by Coppola—better than the film itself.