I finally got around to seeing The Gofather Part III, and I'm not happy. It's is much, much worse than the first two films. And "worse" is the term, not "not as good." I thought the first two films were brilliant, while the third is easily the worst film Coppola has ever made, even counting that trivial little segment of New York Stories. The only good points of this film, in my opinion, were Andy Garcia's dynamic performance, good production design, and an acceptable performance from Pacino.
The flaws, on the other hand, are legion, starting, as bad films invariably do, with the script. The Godfather Part III is not nearly as well written as the first two films. The dialog is weaker, the story is not well integrated into the world built in the first two films, some of the characters are inconsistently written, few of them are very interesting. Some characters only seem present because they were in the other films, notably Kay, Diane Keaton's character.
One very serious problem in the script is that we do not get enough explanation of why Michael isn't the man he was at the end of the last film. Hints, yes, but not a real explanation. Since the whole series is more about him than anyone else, that's a major flaw. More or less the last thing we see in The Godfather Part II is Michael contemplating the murder of his brother, and coming to terms with it by banishing all his feelings. In this film, his son tells him that he is leaving law school to become a singer, and Michael gives the same song and dance that a stockbroker would give his son in the same circumstances. There is no trace of the powerful, amoral man who would do anything to get his way in this scene. Where'd he go? Either Michael should continue to behave in the same way, or we must be told what caused him to change. In this film, Kay tells Michael that she thinks he's more dangerous than ever now that he's respectable. Why? He seems far less dangerous in this film. Is Kay supposed to be wrong? Is it supposed to be a foreshadowing of an explosion of violence and evil from Michael? There is no support for either of these possibilities, or any other that I can see, except, perhaps, that Coppola and Puzo thought it was a good line.
The script is also lacking in the atmosphere and strongly written scenes that were so much a part of the earlier films. The opera sequence at the end of the film is an inferior retread of the climax to The Cotton Club. There is no scene in this film equal (in its writing) to the scene in The Godfather Part II where Hagen explains to one of the family's betrayers why he must commit suicide, or the scene where Michael tells his brother that he knows of his betrayal, or the scene in Part I where the Godfather dispenses favors at his daughter's wedding. The script also provided too little material for us to get any feel for the world of the Mafia, as the first two scripts did so well. It didn't substitute any feel for the world of high finance, or the Vatican, either.
Talia Shire's character is especially harmed by this failure of background. She is forever going on about "saving the family." What family? There's Pacino, Garcia, Pacino's two children, herself, and about three underlings. Pacino's kids don't want to have anything to do with the Mafia, so who are they saving the family for? Contrast this to the first film, in which Brando was surrounded by sons, cousins, and retainers - in a true, if perverse, sense, he was a feudal lord who watched out for all of the peasants in his barony. In this film, Pacino is a businessman with only a shell of a company.
The acting is surprisingly poor. As mentioned, Andy Garcia is dynamic and alive, and Pacino is fine, given the scripted limitations. But the rest of the cast contains hardly a decent performance, much less a brilliant one. Eli Wallach left tooth marks all over the scenery. Joe Mantegna gave the first bad performance I've ever seen from him. (He was, admittedly, hampered by some of the script's poorest lines.) George Hamilton had nothing to do and did it drably. Talia Shire careened between different interpretations of her character which mostly didn't fit in with what we already know of her from the earlier films. There isn't a single bad performance in either of the first two films, and there are several in this one. Disturbingly, the minor characters, who seemed so flavorful in the first two films, dissolve into indistinguishable mush in this film - a combined flaw in writing and casting. As far as Sofia Coppola goes, well, let's just say I considered the climax of the opera scene to be a happy ending.
In addition to problems of script and acting, The Godfather Part III is perhaps the worst edited major film I've seen in many years, probably a result of the rush job necessary to meet the December 25th deadline. The Godfather Part III is choppy. Scenes do not flow naturally together. Coppola intercuts between simultaneous action without rhyme or reason. A notable example - the scene in which Andy Garcia is playing pool and is interrupted by Talia Shire. This scene is unnecessarily cut in half by a sequence in which Michael Corleone masquerades as Kay's driver so he can show her Sicily. Why the cut? Well, Garcia has a reaction to the car starting up and driving away, and, unless the other scene is interposed, the reaction makes no sense. However, the interruption robs Garcia's scene of the power it needs. With sufficient time, I'm sure the editors could have worked around the problem, possibly cutting Garcia's reaction and placing the scene between Michael and Kay elsewhere. That's the sort of thing that happens when you have a rush job. There are other examples, as well.
A more serious flaw is the frequent use of fades to black. At least four or five times, a scene ends, we fade to black, and we are somewhere else dealing with entirely different thematic material. These fades cause the rhythm of the film to stop dead. Using a fade to black as a period at the end of a cinematic sentence is a perfectly valid technique, if you really do want to pause and indicate that a major change is about to take place, but that isn't what the makers of this film seem to have in mind. Rather, they need to end one scene and start another, and they didn't have time to do anything good, so they faded to black. Whenever they do, any momentum the film has built disappears, and they do it quite a lot.
The music for this film, another strong point in the earlier films, is terrible. Coppola's hiring his father to do the score was an even worse idea than hiring his daughter to play a leading role. The only decent parts of the score are those written by Nino Rota for the first film. Much of the rest of the music is banal, and sometimes inappropriate.
And even the direction is poor. I mean, really, a spinning newspaper stopping to reveal a headline? Followed by a shot of newspapers coming off the presses so we could see another headline? These were cliches in the 1940's. Relying on them to provide us with information is almost cynically lazy. I never thought Coppola would try to use this kind of technique seriously. This one is so old that it isn't even any use for a joke.
Coppola also seems to have lost his eye for shots. I liked very much a shot showing Raf Vallone and Pacino separated by an urn, during Pacino's confession. It nicely commented on the content of the scene, with the physical separation between the calm, peaceful cardinal and the suffering, troubled Mafioso. But that is the only memorable scene, other than, possible, dropping one of the murder victims down a stairwell and the opening sequence in which the camera travels over the wreckage of the Corleone's vacation house by the lake. That very promising opening suggests that we will see the corresponding moral ruin of the man who owns the house. But we don't. Instead, we get a kinder, gentler Michael Corleone who, for reasons unclear from anything we've seen in the earlier films, decides he wants to get out of the crime business.
The laziness of the direction is also clear in all of the film's other flaws, including the acting and the editing. Particularly ludicrous is the scene at the very end, in which the aged Michael dies in his chair in a long shot. He drops the orange, slumps over, he's dead - so far, so good. Then he falls out of the chair. I was reminded of the guy on Laugh In who used to ride around on a tricycle and then fall over sideways. Not very subtle, Coppola.
The photography isn't bad, but lacks the rich texture of the first two films. Shadows played a much more important role in those films. Here, not very much happens in shadow. The light isn't as golden, perhaps appropriate for a film with a more modern setting, but definitely not as pretty. The production design is as luxurious as ever, and cannot be faulted. It's nice, I guess, that someone in the production is doing his job.
Overall, I'm not sure whether I regard The Godfather Part III as a major disappointment or not. I was always somewhat dubious about the promise of the film, particularly since Coppola did it for the money, not because he really wanted to show us more. The mixed reviews led me to believe that the film might contain something of value, but I was wrong. If you feel that you must be a completist about this series, I guess you should see The Godfather Part III. But if you are looking for entertainment in a film, or artistic quality, look somewhere else. There's actually some justice to the fact that Home Alone will probably gross two to three times as much as this film.
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