Saturday 21 January 2012

Movie Review: The Godfather Part III (1990)

Michael Corleone's journey reaches its conclusion as he strikes a deal with the Vatican and finds out that grappling with the ruthless forces behind the power of the church is not much different than sleeping with the devil. The Godfather Part III may lack the mysticism of the first two chapters, but it still delivers compelling human drama punctuated by episodes of extreme violence.

It's 1979, and Michael (Al Pacino) has worked hard to legitimize the family's business. Through charitable foundations run by his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), Michael doles out money in high circles to gain ever more power and influence.  His sister Connie (Talia Shire) remains loyally by his side, and Michael even tries to create a civilized relationship with his ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton). Michael is disappointed when his son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) chooses life as an opera singer instead of pursuing law school, but in a sign of the evolving times, Michael does not stand in Anthony's way.

Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) is the bastard son of Michael's deceased brother Sonny, and with Anthony not interested in the family business, Michael gives Vincent a chance to rejoin the family and prove his abilities. Despite being cousins, Vincent and Mary begin a relationship as Vincent starts to gain influence. Meanwhile, Michael designs a high-stakes deal with the Vatican: in return for saving the bankrupt papal bank, Michael will be given control of the church's mammoth real estate company, effectively making him the world's most powerful landlord.

Michael's growing legitimate wealth and influence breed resentment among his old allies in the Mafia world, but more sinister are the mysteriously powerful forces that suddenly begin to target the Corleones. With Michael's dream of global legitimacy almost within his grasp, he and Vincent must sort out friend from foe and protect the family from new and brutal enemies.

It is easy to imagine that The Godfather Part III would have been much better with Robert Duvall and Winona Ryder. Duvall refused to reprise the role of Tom Hagen, claiming that he was offered too little money. Instead, George Hamilton does a pale imitation of the new Corleone family lawyer, and the film loses one its centres of gravity.

Worse still is the loss of Ryder, who dropped out of the role of Mary just prior to the start of filming. Sofia Coppola creates a black hole every time she opens her mouth, a performance that is wooden in the worst deer-in-the-headlights kind of way. She reads her lines with the monotonous conviction usually reserved for grade school plays, and in their shared scenes, the likes of Pacino and Garcia are almost visibly aghast by her obvious lack of talent.

Other than Garcia, who lives up to the burden and legacy, The Godfather Part III is left with a noticeably weak supporting cast to surround Pacino. Diane Keaton and Talia Shire return but they contribute little weight. Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, Raf Vallone and John Savage populate the middle to low reaches of the cast list in generally nondescript roles, and the absence of the likes of Brando, De Niro, Caan, and Cazale is pronounced and painful.

Despite the thin layer of available on-screen talent, Francis Ford Coppola still manages to construct a fairly engrossing conclusion to the bloody saga of the Corleone family. The forces lined up against Michael are more powerful and determined than any previously encountered by the family, Michael learning that in legitimate circles, the same ruthless laws of the jungle apply, except they are hidden behind a dangerous veneer of institutional legitimacy. By weaving the real-world death of Pope John Paul I and the events of the Banco Ambosiano scandal into the Corleone story, Coppola draws the labyrinthian lines that connect yesterday's criminals to today's centres of financial power, and infuses The Godfather Part III with additional relevance.

The focus on the next generation also refreshes the premise. Although Michael's story finds its denouement in The Godfather Part III, Coppola oversees the handing over of at least some of the reins to the likes of Vincent, who doubtless will one day make his own dark offers.

The Gordon Willis cinematography is artistic without being showy, and the famous Nino Rota theme music is used sparingly to maximize its impact.

The Godfather Part III oozes enough grandeur to overcome its faults, and is a worthy third and final chapter in the epic and bloody history of the Corleone family.

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