Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Sofia Coppola, Eli Wallach, George Hamilton, Joe Mantegna & Bridget Fonda
Coming off two stellar gangster films and the expectations that came with them, I imagine that Francis Ford Coppola knew he had his work cut out for him with the conclusion to the GODFATHER trilogy. Over a decade had passed since the second film’s release and cinephiles were eagerly awaiting the final chapter in the Corleone saga. What they received is one of the most underwhelming and disappointing conclusions to any film trilogy. GODFATHER III is the shortest of the trilogy and feels phoned in. It has two modes: boring and stupid. Neither of these contribute to the film feeling like it belongs in the series at all. Yet, it sadly sits there at the end of the trilogy like a train wreck that you have to endure in order to be a completist.
It’s 1979 and Michael Corleone is now 59-years-old. After running his powerful crime family for decades, the sins that come with the family business are rapidly catching up with him. Michael regrets the monster he was during his rise to power and wishes to atone for his sins. In the process, he’s recently become involved a stock feud with the Vatican and taken a young apprentice under his wing. The latter comes in the form of Vincent, a strong-willed and naïve nephew who learns all he can from Michael. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Michael is reluctantly pulled back into the life of crime that he desperately wished to escape. In the process, people die, a calculated conspiracy is revealed and Michael Corleone’s story comes to a very unsatisfying conclusion…that happens to run at nearly three hours in length.
Though it’s a lackluster disappointment for many reasons (that will be elaborated on shortly), GODFATHER III has a couple of merits that keep it from becoming an all-out travesty. The film technically looks good. Even though the cinematography has clearly aged as the filmmaking scene in the 90’s was far different from the 70’s, Coppola still managed to capture an atmosphere of dread and sophistication…even if it was wasted on a mediocre script. The angle of Michael receiving punishment for his past sins and trying to claim possible redemption is not necessarily a bad idea for the final installment. However, the way it plays out really lacks the development needed to make this plot work. We left Michael in Part II as the ruthless tyrant he had become and are suddenly expected to buy him as a bad guy with a good heart in the final installment. It just doesn’t jive that well without any context or scenes leading up to that approach. This being said there are a couple of quality scenes, mainly an execution during a parade and a staggering amount of revenge at an opera house. Other than this handful of praise, the rest of the film is all downhill from there.
I said at the beginning of this review that GODFATHER III functions on two modes. It’s either boring beyond belief or stupid to an eye-rolling degree. The inner workings of the mafia and family politics were two of the strongest suits in the original two films. These were previously brought to the screen in a way that felt complex but accessible to anyone paying attention. GODFATHER III does it’s very best to bore you into not caring about any of the politics among the crime families. When the movie isn’t boring you to tears, it’s using ridiculous story tropes that don’t belong in a GODFATHER film. For example, the first two movies had quiet tension surrounding their sudden outbursts of violence. When the executions came, they were shocking and meaningful. In GODFATHER III, we see an execution taking place right in the middle of a crowded parade (though it’s still one of the better scenes of the whole film) and (I kid you not) a helicopter gunning down a room full of mafia bosses. During the latter, I felt like I was watching a Bond thriller as opposed to a serious crime drama.
The cast doesn’t necessarily help the film either. Al Pacino was a tour-de-force in the previous two movies and began transforming into the pale image of his former talented self during this third installment. He feels like he’s trying too hard and going way too over-the-top with spurts of manic yelling and melodramatic delivery. Meanwhile, Andy Garcia doesn’t fare much better as Vincent. Aside from being Michael’s protégé, the character has little to no personality to speak of. Joe Mantegna is a clichéd villain, but Eli Wallach is far more bland in his antagonistic role. Finally, the worst performance of the whole film comes from Sofia Coppola (yes, the director’s daughter). She was miscast and woodenly delivers every single one of her lines like a valley girl reading off of cue cards. It’s not like her dialogue was great to begin with, but she ruins every scene that she appears in.
THE GODFATHER is a classic crime epic. THE GODFATHER II is one of the greatest gangster stories ever told and also happens to be one of the best sequels ever made. GODFATHER III doesn’t feel like it belongs in this trilogy. Francis Ford Coppola has said that the real GODFATHER story is contained in the first two films and this third installment serves as an epilogue to the series. I say it’s an epilogue centered around a bad script brought to life with worse acting. It’s a painfully downgraded, cheesy, clichéd and melodramatic epilogue that runs for nearly three hours of your life that you’ll never get back. I suggest you watch the first two films and pretend that this third movie doesn’t even exist. You’ll be much happier that way.