“I haven’t cried like this since I paid to see Godfather III” – Marion Anthony “Fat Tony” D’Amico, from The Simpsons (voiced, ironically enough by Joe Mantegna, who plays Joey Zasa in this very film)
“It turns out massacres are a lot like sitting through Godfather III: once is enough.” – Lorne from Angel
This film is oddly legendary, and as legendary as its prequels…but for very different reasons. Some might say it was the great disappointment of 1990. Others might say it was the Nightmare Before Christmas: 1990 Edition (it came out in cinemas during the Christmas holidays that year). And others again might tell you that once you see it, you can’t go back and pretend it never happened. But is The Godfather Part 3 really as bad as people say it is? After finally watching it for the first time as an adult (rather than a teenager, which was the first and last time, and a long time ago) lets look into it…and forgive me brother, I had to…I just had to (You know who you are).
Deciding on the actual quality of this film is down to 2 different perspectives; One perspective is based on how it is as a film within the Godfather trilogy, and the other is asking the question “What if this was a stand alone film with a different name and different characters, or at least a name change to these characters?”. So what’s our story? Well, it focuses primarily on Michael Corleone, who is now in his late 50s, and experiencing a great change in himself, and in the business that he has been a part of since he decided to do a job for his older brother Sonny in the late 1940s. The year is 1979, and the world seems a long way away from the simpler times. What is this change in Michael? It comes in the form of Michael trying to leave the mafia behind, as the death of Fredo has taken away many of his happy days and plagued him with guilt. Since The Godfather 2, he and Kay have been long divorced, and Kay has custody of their 2 children, Anthony (played by broadway actor Franc D’Ambrosio) and Mary (played by director Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter, Sofia). Michael tries to “make things right” by gaining friends in the higher areas of the Vatican (priests and cardinals, mostly), giving a lot to charity, and despite his attempts to get out, find a successor to his empire. This successor comes in the form of Vincent Mancini (played by Andy Garcia), the hot tempered illegitimate son of Michael’s older brother, Sonny (if you remember Sonny’s mistress in the first film, Vincent is their love child). Vincent has a bit of a grudge with his superior, Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), who has become a celebrity and media-friendly gangster (Something that would never happen in the other 2), and believes that Zasa has his own agenda against Corleone. In time, despite Michael being against it, Vincent also falls in love with Mary, and it leads to what could only be described as a stereotypical teen romance from the late 1980s that acts as a sub-plot to the movie. I’m serious – if you compare Michael’s relationship with his first wife, Apollonia, to this, there is no comparison. Michael’s 1st marriage was beautifully shot, even though they didn’t say much on the screen. This wasn’t that great, and there wasn’t that much chemistry.
The production of Godfather Part 3 remains strong in the sense that’s it’s still good. The music is still strong and beautiful. The cinematography is still very good, and the use of its locations is as strong as ever (especially when presenting “The Old Country”). But unfortunately a variety of other factors have hurt this film to a definite degree. A main aspect would come in the form of a visual identity crisis. Godfather 1 was shot in 1972 and set in a time period from 17 to 27 years ago. Godfather 2, shot in 1974, was set in a period from 14 to 16 years ago. But Godfather 3’s story is set 10-11 years before it came out. What am I trying to get at? Perhaps I’m suggesting that the more long ago a film is set, the more effort is put in to stylise it to fit that time period? Or perhaps it’s because it would have been 1 thing if Godfather Part 3 was set in the early ’60s, rather than the late ’70s when the world that The Godfather was originally set in was more or less completely gone? I have difficulty imagining Michael Corleone sharing a room with Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Donnie Brasco), even if they were both played by Al Pacino. But if there is 1 thing the Godfather couldn’t be, it’s being hip, cool and down with the homies, and for some reason, it felt like it tried to appeal to an audience who would have otherwise been tucked into bed or unborn when their parents went to see the first 2 films in cinema…it can also be pointed out that outfit-wise, Mary is clearly ahead of her time.
What about the acting? The acting was fine. It wasn’t as good as the other 2, and it was missing some very key people, primarily Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen. The film feels quite flat and empty without Tom. It can also be noted that this film is trashed for the casting of Sofia Coppola for Mary. They say that in the books, Mary is unbelievably stunning, and that Winona Ryder got the role and then dropped out. As a last minute decision, they went with Francis’ daughter, who was complained about because she wasn’t particularly experienced as an actor…and they were right, she wasn’t great. As for those who talked about her looks, she’s probably a late bloomer (because she became very nice from her 30s onwards…and a great director herself).
The biggest crime that The Godfather Part 3 commits…and this is the absolute, main reason it isn’t anywhere near as good as Part 1 and Part 2…Do you want to hear it? Okay, here it is…The Godfather Part 3 is boring. Very, very boring. Now, The Godfather series up to this point does have a lot of men and women sitting down, eating, drinking, getting married, killing each other, doing business, and getting mad to show off their acting range with great and memorable lines. But they were engaging….and interesting…stuff was actually happening, not only in the overall journey, but in the highlights. The Godfather 3 doesn’t even have particularly strong or engaging highlights outside of the helicopter and parade scene…and when it’s slow, it’s really slow! If this was a film under a different name with different characters, it would still be seen as incredibly boring…which is a problem, folks.
Would I recommend The Godfather Part 3?…It’s hard to say. On 1 hand, you can say you have seen it, and therefore can tell people that once is enough (Do consider that nearly 3 hours of your life will be spent witnessing this), and there’s the possibility that you should treat The Godfather series like a sane person treats film series like Halloween, Highlander or The Crow…that it is better to just watch what was good about it, and forget about the rest. Is it the worst film ever made? Far from it. But it is definitely disappointing.
Acting: ***1/2 (rather phoned in by the heavyweights, okay by some new faces and poor here and there, although it was good to see Eli Wallach)
Characters: *** (no Tom Hagen to truly challenge Michael’s decision-making leaves Michael with little to do, even when it comes to redeeming himself from a life of crime. Also many characters are the same from beginning to end with no development)
Music: ***** (Something that has thankfully survived the trip through time)
Background/Design: **** (Good to see the town of Corleone again, not sure about much else.)
Cinematography: **** (Not as good as Part 1 and 2, but still well crafted)
Story: -** (Criminally boring, even for a movie, never mind being part of the Godfather trilogy)
Overall Rating: ***