Comfortable and Furious

The Godfather: Part III

2hrs 42 minutes (but it feels like eternity), R for wholly implausible violence

Fair Value of The Godfather Part Three: -$15.00. Ordinarily, in my work day, my profession earns me about $30/ hour. This film wasted three hours of my life. I want my Saturday back. I want my life back. I want to be the person that I was before I watched The Godfather Part III. This was the first movie I ever watched where I found myself counting down the minutes to the end. Over-acted, undershot, mis-scored, incoherent, tepid and a cliched retread, this film seems like it was checking off ever category on a ‘how not to make a sequel’ list.

As Italian as a reheated lasagna TV dinner: Everything about this movie is stale and flavorless, which has led me to come up with two theories as to how this film got made. It’s an inexcusable film- in that the levels of talent cannot excuse the mediocrity of the production. Pacino, Keaton, Shire, Eli Wallach! Francis Ford Coppola would make Bram Stoker’s Dracula just two years later, which is filled with rich and imaginative shots! I faulted Lisa Fruchtman, the editor, but she also edited Apocalypse Now and The Right Stuff! I thought the casting was weak, but casting director Janet Hirshenson also cast The Princess Bride and Clue during this period. Everybody involved in this project (aside from Sofia Coppola) was considered at the top of their game, one of the best in Hollywood.

What did they get wrong? The lighting, as compared with the previous two films, is at a soap opera level. The acting is similarly miserable- both Pacino and Wallach ham things up like they were in a school play. The sound editing similarly takes a nose dive- there’s a scene in a private helicopter where the engine noises drown at the dialogue. That might be realistic but it’s not good storytelling.

Ripped from the Headlines and ready for the litter box: Plotwise, Godfather Part Three utterly bungles what would already be a difficult storyline. A tale of an illicit empire trying to go wholly legit still features more board-room meetings than back alley assassinations. Godfather Part Two had the stultifying drawback of being two films in one movie; Part Three is more like three films in one movie, and one of those consists of a couple awkwardly watching their untalented failson attempt to sing opera. Yeah, you get half of an opera in this Bataan death march of a film.

The film draws from the scandals of the Vatican Bank and the premature death of John Paul I.

Hoisted by Its Own Cliches

Another part of the mendacity of this film is a common sin of sequels: the shameless appeals to nostalgia about the first film. There’s the long social rituals, here executed without intrigue; there’s a mob hits, which apparently now follow a rule that every assassination requires a fanciful costume. You can’t kill somebody in ordinary street clothing god forbid.

Annulling All Character Development

But by far the worst part of this movie is the way the character development of the earlier films is completely negated. By that I mean: why on earth does Kay (Diane Keaton) spend even a second more than absolutely necessary with Michael? WHY THE HELL would she even go to Siciliy when the whole part of the second film was her risking life and limb to get an illegal abortion and divorcing Michael. How did she get custody of the kids?

Likewise, Connie (Talia Shire). Didn’t Michael kick her out of the estate? Isn’t the last thing that she’d want is for her son to get involved with the Corleone family, after all that has happened to her brothers? But the true capper, the true merde on the caviar, is this: it undoes Michael Corleone.

The core theme of Godfather I & II is how Michael’s unwillingness to open up, his ability to lie to the people emotionally closest to him, isolates and leads him onto a path of sociopathy and villainy. And now, out of the blue, the guy just confesses to a priest he just met? Not only is it an unearned catharsis, it’s an emotional beat which undercuts and annihilates the entire point of Michael’s story so far.

You Mentioned Two Theories:

                Alright, here’s what I suspect:

                This is the first Sofia Coppola film.

By that, I do not mean that it is the first film starring Sofia Coppola as an actress. I mean, rather, that it is the first film directed by Sofia Coppola. “Francis Ford Coppola” is the Alan Smithee of this film- the father taking the hit so as to spare his daughter from a flop of Tommy Wiseauvian proportions. If you take the premise that this film was directed by an over-confident 19 year old, rather than by an experienced member of the Golden Age Auteurs, this makes a lot more sense. The fast cutting. The poor composition of the shots. The blocking of the actors. This was a disaster that was meant to be her star making turn- instead, it set her back by ten years, until the release of The Virgin Suicides. This film was made without literacy either to the previous films, or to the book, or to many practices and tricks of film-making in general. It has the ambition, muddle, bathos, and slipshod attributes of a first time film-maker.

It’s an irony and tragedy worthy of the Corleone family: how a film franchise about the dangers and toxicity of nepotism became destroyed by the toxicity of nepotism. In the end, the last victim of the Corleone crime family was Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo.

And the Second Theory?

Somebody made Francis an offer he couldn’t refuse. This was a hit- a hit on an entire genre of cinema. A deliberate effort to foreclose on movies about the Mafia, a retroactive and unsuccessful abortion.

The Godfather was widely lambasted as a slander of Italian Americans at the time of it’s release. More than anything, The Godfather broke the secrecy of La Cosa Nostra, thrusting them out of the shadows and into the limelight.  

At the time of the release of Godfather Part III, American Zoetrope was filing for bankruptcy. Francis Ford Coppola had made a series of expensive flops- One From the Heart, Cotton Club, Tucker.

The Godfather Part Three is a movie that makes the Mafia boring. Banal. Bleak. It’s a film that would make a person completely uninterested in the proceedings. Unfortunately, this effort came all too late- Scorsese’s Goodfellas not only beat Godfather Part Three by three months to the box office, but completely reinvigorated what had been a faltering cinematic subject matter.

The Godfather Part Three makes a lot more sense if you understand it as an attempt to murder a franchise so thoroughly that it never rises ever again. Unfortunately, it is a testament to the first film that the burial was only temporary- nowadays, we have Godfather video games. Whether against the genre as a whole, or just the franchise, Coppola’s effort was too late and too wild, much like the helicopter hit in Godfather Part Three.

Rules for Mafiosi, Per Godfather Part Three

  • Hitman must always wear colorful costumes and act in crowded public places where there are numerous witnesses.
  • Just state your organized crime plans out loud in front of everyone. It’s not like crime needs to be secretive, after all.
  • The end goal of all crime families is to have controlling shares in a nebulous international corporate conglomerate. Nobody ever needs to explain what the conglomerate does or what products it has.
  • It’s ok to have a sudden spontaneous crisis and just confess all of your crimes to a priest, even when said priest is involved in shady money laundering deals with you. It’s not like the Catholic Church has ever abused the holy rite of confession!
  • It’s all about the family. That’s why your daughter should have top billing AND also be the assistant director. After all, you gave your sister a role, your father a role- I am somewhat surprised that Nicholas Cage didn’t get a piece of the action!



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