Written by: Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy García, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna
Time and time again, stories involving the mob have demonstrated that while an individual can enjoy the splendors this lifestyle can provide, the end result will always be pain. It happens from the lowest member of the tree or someone who has ruled through fear for decades. The Godfather Part III details the final act of a storied trilogy and while it has some good elements, it heavily pales in comparison to the genuine masterpieces preceding it.
Now in his 60s and finally moving the Corleone business to be fully legitimate, Michael (Al Pacino) seeks to land a world-changing deal in international real estate with the Vatican. As he tries to accomplish this with legal tactics, remnants of his old business partners come back along with new adversaries looking to assert their dominance.
After initially watching the first two masterworks of this trilogy, the negative reputation this finale has accrued scared me from watching it. I could not bear the thought of the creative talents involved with two of the greatest films ever made could fumble the finale in ways it has been described. However, when it came to reviewing these films for my site, I just needed to bite the bullet and complete Michael Corleone’s story and admittedly, it’s not bad. Yes, a huge drop-off from the first two but most films would also pale in comparison, to be fair.
This finale has Michael fulfilling the promise he made to Kay (Diane Keaton) back in the first feature of the Corleone family becoming legitimate and ceasing illegal operations. Something that came too late for the sake of their relationship but has set their children up for a world of success and hopefully away from the dangers of the world he hopes to leave behind. Unfortunately, when Michael made the decision to step in as Don, he could never fully get away from this world of violence and power-grabbing men. After all, this film features the ever-famous quote of “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me right back in.” The tragedy of this feature became inevitable.
Just as Part II brought the Corleone family business to the international stage, this feature takes an interesting turn into dealings with the Catholic Church at a bureaucratic level. Catholicism and Italian mobs have always been intertwined with the hypocrisy of these men pledging fealty to a preacher of nonviolence in Jesus Christ and then turning around to whack people off for business reasons. The other features even have violence cutting in between acts of sacraments like marriage, baptism, and first communion. Well, in the third installment, it became time to involve the entire Vatican and really brings disrepute to the entire foundation of the Catholic Church. Michael gets this massive business deal opportunity because of the relationship he has with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly), who massively misused the funds of the Vatican Bank. An act of desperation and an opportunity by the cunning Michael sets everything off, which only further combines the actions of these evil men with the Catholic Church more. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola have never shied away from it and made this connection as blunt and obvious as possible here.
One of the biggest talking points mentioned when speaking on this film’s negative reputation comes from the performance of young Sofia Coppola. Portraying Michael’s daughter, Mary, and also the real-life daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola, much has been said about her terrible acting and how it sinks in the entire movie. Coming into watching this film I prepared for the worst and I must say, the young Coppola was fairly bad in the role. A performance that had no naturalness to it, if the word works, but it just sticks out compared to everyone else in the feature. Quite the odd thing to see considering Coppola, through his direction, has helped put forward some of the best performances of this genre in the previous two films. Heck, two of his actors even won Oscars for playing younger and older Vito Corleone. No acting choice felt wrong until the one involving the director’s own daughter, which says something.
Outside of Sofia’s subpar performance, this film also felt unnecessarily long. While the other two felt like epics needing their runtime to tell rich stories, they also had spectacular pacing. Much like the older Michael, this one seemingly dragged on a bit too much, which hampered the overall viewing experience. In a sense, it felt like it had this length simply because the first two films each sat around the 3-hour mark.
Definitely the ugly duckling of the trilogy, The Godfather Part III has earned parts of its negative reputation from the nepotistic casting and waiting far too long to be a capper. However, it also continues the themes of the first two in a resonant manner, from the connections to Catholicism, but also serving as the final comeuppance for Michael Corleone. As a man who got away with far too much over his life, this film represents the world he tried to leave behind coming back to get him as destiny would always ensure.