SPOILERSThe Godfather Part III could have been this epic spectacular finale to the whole Godfather franchise, not that it had to be a fantastical finale in the vein of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, although those are fantasy/science-fiction epics. Yet the pace and the focus of the whole film felt heavily wasted on one too many characters and storylines that it didn’t feel like it flowed as a solid narrative that felt like a conclusion to a trilogy. The lack of the dark cinematography and the tedious talky moments with Michael Corleone and his business partners drains the film of its artistic and moody style that Francis Ford Coppola had applied to the first two Godfather films and makes the film appear too modern in terms of the year 1990 in which it was released. Al Pacino seemed too unfamiliar as the older Michael since he lacked the cold and ambiguous edge of his younger self; instead, he’s a sad and tearful old man who at the beginning of the film is able to express open love to his daughter and dance with her and a little girl at the reception of his blessing by the Archbishop. He is not as charismatic and intimidating as his former self or as Marlon Brando’s performance as his father. His story is also somewhat under pressure from the presence of Vincent, who is a loud and smart-edged brute like Sonny Corleone. Vincent’s story takes away the emotional affect of Michael’s personal problems and hardly bears significance since he hardly goes through a thorough transformation from a hard-edged thug to a suave heir to the Corleone throne. The sudden decision near the end to make him the Don makes it rushed and contradicts how reckless and dangerous Vincent is that it looks out of place. It’s as though Michael passed the title onto him simply because he was in a rush to get out of the family business and needed a replacement fast. In that way, it makes Vincent’s taking of the title insincere and sudden that the character comes off as dramatically weak. The other storylines, such as Joey Zasa and his corrupt run of the Corleone territory and the duplicity of the Vatican, also felt out of place and made the film very convoluted that they didn’t add up to form a solid coherent story. The acting performance of Sofia Coppola is so empty of emotion and personality that she makes the character of Mary act dead even before she ends up dead at the end. That’s another case where she was just rushed into to play Mary as a last-minute replacement for Winona Ryder and didn’t keep her acting record in track. The character of Anthony Corleone also appeared dead, despite the fact that he barely appears in the film. That is all the more troublesome because Anthony has been shown to have a deep relationship with his father as a child, now as a young man, he has very little of a relationship to Michael as Mary does to Michael. The idea of making the daughter the emotional center of Michael’s life felt out of place because of the lack of characterization of her in The Godfather Part II. Anthony seemed to be the child that Michael had high hopes for and when Tony refuses to join the family business at the beginning, it destroys any significance Tony had shown in the earlier films to Michael’s life. We see him singing at the opera as his only strength as a character, but the character aspects of him are dead. He gets stepped over by the character of Vincent, who becomes more of the surrogate son to Michael, yet has never been mentioned or seen in the previous two films and just appeared out of nowhere. They suddenly reveal that he’s the illegitimate son of Sonny at the beginning of the film and his entrance into the story ruins the flow of the previous two films that focused on the nuclear Corleone family. Maybe Andy Garcia should have played Tony since he looks like he’s Al Pacino’s son.
The structure of the film is still similar to that of the previous two Godfather films: a celebration at the beginning, the meetings with the Don, an attempt on the Don’s life, a conspiracy unmasked, and a final assassination montage juxtaposed with a special occasion. We see Michael holding a party in honor of his blessing by the Archbishop, speaking privately in his office with family and allies, surviving an assassination attempt on his life, many of his colleagues being exposed as traitors, and then he allows Vincent to order the deaths of all the conspirators in a montage that is juxtaposed with the opera that Tony performs in. What lacks in these patterns is that Michael doesn’t let out the same authority as he did in the Godfather Part II or the way his father Vito Corleone did in the first Godfather. Instead, he lets his ex-wife Kay, his nephew Vincent, and his treacherous caporegime Joey Zasa yell all the shots at him, demanding for changes, and he has to just take it in and not give a final say in the matters. He’s become so drained of his authority because he is trying to redeem himself of all the dirty work he did in his early reign as the Don, which changes him into a completely different character. His need to be redeemed is understandable because the way he looks after ordering Fredo’s death in the second film appears as that of someone who has lost his humanity and has to live with the regret forever. His sobbing to the Cardinal makes him appear helpless for the first time as he confesses all of his sins is believable, yet he has been concerned with too many others matters that it makes his confession and guilt seem rushed. His concern about Joey Zasa and the Vatican conspiracy overwhelms the story that it feels too political and wasted for a concluding film to a crime saga. Joey Zasa’s place in the story is cut out too early in the film when he’s killed by Vincent that it makes his role in the film meaningless. The Vatican conspiracy is also very predictable because we can tell nothing but dishonesty and treachery about the Archbishop and his colleagues because they are so worried about their money and the effect it has on the Church that it’s a typical cliché to see the Church as hypocritical and corrupt, especially whenever the Archbishop prays for himself over the sins he’s about to commit. He seems like a natural person, not an over-the-top character type of a sinister bishop, yet his nervous energy makes me wonder why he’s getting involved with the other mob bosses to assassinate Michael. The whole intrigue that revolves around the Vatican is very empty and slow it doesn’t compare to the intrigue felt when the Corleone Family was dealing with rival families and gangsters. Even the Cardinal who is up for the title of Pope hardly seemed necessary to the film, particularly the plot to assassinate him, as he doesn’t seem significant to Michael’s business other than listening to his confessions and when he dies it doesn’t really affect the film in any way. Once it comes down to the climax in which all the conspirators are hunted down and killed in a montage that parallels the final montages of the first two films, it attempts to bring a dramatic closure to the film. Yet, it loses it drama the way in which the killings happen so fast and predictably that they didn’t come close to surpassing the famous Baptism montage in The Godfather Part I or the the killings in Godfather II. The only difference is how it’s juxtaposed with the opera that Tony Corleone performs in, which provides the montage with a musical energy, perhaps the film’s only power in its imagery as it conveys the operatic struggles of Michael to survive the antagonistic battles and his own personal demons. Once the montage is over, we see Michael leaving the opera with his family and it takes a more emotional closure when Mary gets shot by accident on the opera house steps, leaving Michael and the rest of the family in pain. Michael’s reaction is very powerful and didn’t require the sound of his scream to express his sorrow. The reactions on everyone’s faces shows how much they look to Michael and connect with him over this tragedy that it acknowledges how far down Michael has gone with the whole family. Then again, the build-up to the tragedy was very empty because of the focus on the assassinations of the conspirators against Michael’s life and the extravagant opera sequence. It made the film look too extravagant for an ending, which is supposed to be tragic, that those big sequences and this tragic ending compete with each other for the bigger emotional effect. Since Mary was also a poorly acted character, her death hardly comes off as heartbreaking since it was hard to really weep for her other than her beauty. The coda of her death shows a montage of scenes from the previous two films of Michael dancing with Mary, Apollonia, and Kay, which works nicely in reminding us of the happiness Michael had with all of these women, as they represented the emotional core of his life amidst his cold-blooded business affairs. The last scene of him as an aged man, dying in his chair, works for the end as we see a man we have followed for three movies die in a similar fashion to the way his father Vito dies in The Godfather, except that Vito died a happy content man and Michael a lonely broken man. It felt appropriate for the way of this character to meet his end, yet it still lacked enough of the build-up to Michael’s end because of the focus on unnecessary characters, multiple storylines, and rushed transitions.Altogether, these elements made this final chapter of the epic crime saga convoluted, rushed, and less memorable as the other two films. About the only line of that film that stays with me is: “As soon as I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.” The energy and poise Al Pacino gives with the delivery of that line makes him gritty and tough as a man trying to give up his role as the Don who caused much of the mayhem in the previous films. Other than that, the film doesn’t feel like a solid conclusion to the saga and it makes me wish it was never made or if it was a concluding sequel that could have added more depth to the feeling of an ending for a classic saga. It doesn’t convey the same epic and coherent feeling that the first two films conveyed to make them into memorable classics, which makes it all the more surprising that it was up for Best Picture in 1991.