Thursday, March 19, 2009

Target #263: The Godfather: Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola)

TSPDT placing: #616
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton, Bridget Fonda, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D'Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright

My three-week engagement with Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy came to a close this week, and, contrary to the prevailing public opinion, I find myself satisfied. The Godfather: Part III (1990) has always been the Fredo of the Godfather family – frequently disparaged, resented or otherwise ignored. Certainly, there was considerable risk in returning to the Corleone family after a sixteen-year absence, especially given the mixed critical and commercial reception towards much of Coppola's 1980s output {indeed, the director only accepted the studio offer to recoup his past financial losses}. Nevertheless, that a second sequel wasn't produced sooner demonstrates Coppola's dedication towards getting everything right, and the result is a picture that successfully expands upon the two previous instalments, respectfully and solemnly drawing the saga to a close. Any film is liable to suffer in comparison with two of the great gangster pictures of our time, but, despite a few issues – which I'll get to shortly – The Godfather: Part III is a more than worthy addition to the family.

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has spent the last two decades trying to legitimise his operations, perhaps a last futile attempt at reconstructing his shattered family. However, still tormented by the memory of brother Fredo, Michael knows that he can never truly wash his hands of organised crime ("just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!"). Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent (Andy Garcia) offers his services to Michael, proving his dedication towards the family, even if he shares his father's recklessness. Michael's two children have since grown up. Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) has defied his father's wishing by becoming an opera singer, and Mary (Sofia Coppola) begins a worrying incestuous relationship with Vincent. Meanwhile, in a further bid to improve his reputation and importance, Michael moves to purchase the Vatican's shares in real-estate company Immobiliare, a bid that ultimately reveals corruption and treachery in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church, a group traditionally regarded as pure and virtuous. Here, Coppola shows that policemen, judges, and even priests, can readily be bought.

For the most part, The Godfather: Part III is a wonderful film. Gordon Willis' return as cinematographer ensured that the film remained aesthetically consistent with its predecessors, and Coppola's film-making is, for the most part, handsome and professional. The screenplay, co-written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, is just as convoluted as the original film, but I'm confident that a second viewing will substantially improve my understanding of each character and their motives. Though the first few dialogue scenes seem strained, as though the actors are easing into their roles, the performances are generally excellent. Only Sofia Coppola – and I don't want to labour the point, since she's been lambasted enough – fails to construct a well-defined screen persona. She wears a peculiar scowl for most of the film, and her role in the story is vague and superficial. Nevertheless, any of the picture's weaknesses are quickly forgotten in lieu of an unforgettable climax, set amid an operatic performance of "Cavalleria Rusticana," perhaps the finest instance of prolonged suspense since the Albert Hall sequence in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Currently my #2 film of 1990:
1) Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
2) The Godfather: Part III (Francis Ford Coppola)
3) Misery (Rob Reiner)
4) Back To The Future Part III (Robert Zemeckis)
5) Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven)


Jump_Raven said...

Wow Andrew, you think a lot more of this film than I did. If it wasn't Sofia Coppola's horribly wooden performance then it was the total unnecessary addition that this film provides the saga. The events of this film are predicted and practically spelled out for us by the end of part II. We didn't need this film. As it is, it's like a theater company trying to do a beloved play with a couple of has beens. Sorry for the strong words, but this one raises strong feelings.

ackatsis said...

That's not unexpected, of course. A lot of people hate Part III.

Perhaps seeing the film in a cinema was beneficial to my enjoyment. I really got into it, and my heart was thumping furiously for the final half-hour.

Either I was experiencing a mild heart attack, or I really enjoyed the film! :-)