Wednesday, March 21, 2012
GODFATHER - PART III, THE
(December 1990, U.S.)
If you take a moment to look back at the last few months of the year 1990, you may recall that there was a small pack of gangster films released in movie theaters that included Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS, the Cohen Brothers' MILLER'S CROSSING and Abel Ferrara's KING OF NEW YORK. So what better time for Francis Ford Coppola to release his third and final chapter in the GODFATHER saga.
I've always held the opinion that the one key thing that can make a sequel very attractive is if enough years have passed in between them. I don't mean three, I don't mean six or even ten. I'm talking about fifteen or more. By that conviction, THE GODFATHER-PART III is more than just a mere sequel, it's a true family reunion. After nearly two decades, it's not only wonderful to see Michael Corleone, Connie Corleone and Kay Adams again but also to see some of the minor characters we came to know like Al Neri and Johnny Fontane. Yes, it's true that even before the film premiered it likely never stood a chance to be anywhere as good as the first two films preceedding it. But if anything occurs with age, its change, and I believe that change is good in any film franchise, otherwise you're just watching the same damn thing over and over again.
So now it's the year 1979 and Michael Corleone is nearing sixty and wracked with guilt for his ambitious and ruthless rise to power, especially having ordered the murder of his older brother Fredo. By now, he's mostly retired from the Mafia, leaving the Corleone family's criminal interests in the hands of enforcer Joey Zasa (played by Joe Mantegna), and is using his tremendous wealth and power to restore his reputation via numerous acts of charity. It seems to be working because the film begins with a religious ceremony naming him Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian. It would seem that money and power have paid for a perfectly-seasoned purification, at least on the outside. Ex wife Kay and even his son Anthony can see right through Michael and the seemingly shameless charade he uses to disguise his true soul.
The key element in the storyline of the third film is deeply involved with the Catholic Church, something this Jewish writer, admitedly, knows very little-to-nothing about. The story begins with the Catholic religion, continues with a business venture that seeks to make Michael the largest stockholder in a company called International Immobiliare, an internation real estate holding company which has heavy interest control by the Roman Vatican Bank and even has Michael confessing his horable sins to a kind priest, giving him his much needed absolution. Near the film's conclusion, two priests are murdered for respective motives and even the evil Italian assassin that will change the rest of Michael's life forever is dressed as a priest. Yes, it's safe to say that watching THE GODFATHER-PART III is almost equivalent to watching Sunday morning religious programming...almost.
Let's take a moment to explore the true irony that occurs in Michael's tormented life. As we know from our own viewing experience, his motives (as he's claimed all along) has always been about protecting his family and keeping them safe. To his credit, his love for his two children, especially kind-hearted Mary (played by director Coppola's daughter Sophia) is unparallelled. It can only be called tragic when, despite his most extreme efforts, she is gunned down right in front of his eyes when taking a bullet that was meant for him. His entire life's work and purpose have just become invalidated when what is most precious to him has fallen at the hands of his enemies. He tells Mary earlier in the film, "I would burn in Hell to keep you safe." It would seem that even THAT won't be enough.
Speaking of Mary's character for a moment, I can still remember Sophia Coppola getting a lot of rather unfair flack for her performance. She may be a better director than actress, but in all honestly I didn't think she was all that bad in the role. Would Winona Ryder (the first choice cast for the role) honestly have been any better? I say not.
THE GODFATHER-PART III was nominated for best picture of 1990. Although I personally feel the honor should have gone to GOODFELLAS, back then I so really wanted PART III to win the award just so cinema history could record an entire trilogy of films winning the Oscar for best picture of the year. How cool would that have been??
So let me finally conclude by saying that it's been an absolute pleasure discussing and interpreting what I consider to be my favorite film saga of all time; more than STAR WARS, more than LORD OF THE RINGS, more than anything. It is, in my opinion, the greatest story of loyalty, honor, family and violence I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing on screen. If you've never experienced it for yourself yet, let me just say in all extreme corniness...it's an offer you can't refuse!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kay Adams: "You know, Michael, now that you're so respectable I think you're more dangerous than you EVER were. In fact, I preferred you when you were just a common Mafia hood!"