Godfather Part III, The (United States, 1990)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Eighteen years after the first screenings of The Godfather, the long-awaited third and final chapter reached theaters. That it proved unable to fulfill expectations was a predictable - if somewhat disheartening - result, given the sixteen year buildupThe Godfather Part III is a good movie, with moments of rare power, but it is not a great one - a reason why many fans of the series have voiced their disappointment. Oscar nominations for this film were probably based more on the Godfather name and reputation than on the particular merits of this production. Part III became the first Godfather not to take best picture and, despite a deserving performance, Al Pacino's efforts were not acknowledged. The lack of awards enthusiasm perhaps reflected a general opinion.

The story opens in 1979 New York, some twenty years after Michael Corleone (Pacino) gave the order to have his older brother killed. His children Mary (Sofia Coppola) and Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) are now grown. Mary is devoted to her father; Anthony is more wary. He loves Michael, but wants nothing to do with "the business", even though all illegal investments have been divested. The Corleone family is legitimate. As with the other two movies, this one begins with a family gathering. The occasion is the presentation to Michael of the Order of St. Sebastian - the highest honor the Catholic Church can bestow upon a layman. For a Corleone to receive it is the ultimate mark of respectability. Michael is not so easily free of his former underworld allies, however. When he makes a $600 million play for the international conglomerate Immobiliare, they want a piece of the cake, seeing an opportunity to launder their money. Michael's refusal at a meeting of dons stings more than a few of his old friends, and brings down a bloody retribution. The next Don Corleone - Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), Sonny Corleone's boy - is awaiting his opportunity. He possesses a ruthlessness and taste for violence that Michael has long since lost, and as the Immobiliare stakes escalate, the old head of the family recognizes the need for youth and strength. The passing of the baton, however, carries with it a tragic price.

One of the most obvious problems with The Godfather Part III is that it covers little new territory. The plot is highly derivative of the original. This time, Michael fills Vito's role, and Vincent stands in for Michael. This method of too-obvious parallelism might have been more effective had Vincent's character been better developed. That isn't the case, however, because Michael is still the focal point. As always, Pacino is a delight to watch. The third time around, he brings a mournful weariness to Michael Corleone. This is a man who has paid for all the wrong choices. Memories haunt him like ghosts that can never be exorcised. The emotional toll is shown in the stoop of his shoulders and the thickness of his voice. Family, as has ever been the case, is crucial to Michael. His children are his reason for living. In his words, "The only wealth in this world is children. More than all the money and power on Earth, [they] are my treasure." He says to Mary that he would burn in hell to keep her safe. It is a prophetic statement.

Robert Duvall is missed. It's impossible not to feel the vacuum created by his absence. George Hamilton's B.J. Barrison is a one-dimensional necessity of plot, not a "real" character. At least the decision was made not to replicate Tom Hagen in Barrison. Hamilton is given little more to do than stand in the background and speak a few lines. Another unfortunate casting decision was the choice of Sofia (daughter of Francis) Coppola as Mary (Winona Ryder, the director's preference, was prevented by fatigue from appearing). Coppola is pleasant enough to look at, but her range is limited, and that lack of ability diminishes several emotionally-charged scenes. This is the first Godfather to have a major role defined by a poor performance.

One thing that is not inferior, however, is Francis Ford Coppola's directorial flair. The final half-hour, with its interweaving of diverse-yet-related plot lines, is choreographed with the skill of a master. There are moments of The Godfather Part III that shine with the brilliance of the previous two films. Despite its missteps, The Godfather Part III packs enough of a punch to deserve a place alongside its predecessors. This is no poorly-conceived curiosity. Not only does the film bring Michael Corleone's story to a conclusion, but it remains faithful to the form and style of parts I and II. Taken as one grand epic, with this chapter included, the Godfather movies represent one of the most solid, emotionally-rich tales ever committed to film.

Godfather Part III, The (United States, 1990)

Run Time: 2:50
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1