the godfather: Part III (1990)

Coppola's The Godfather Part III is a confused debacle. After 15 years, Coppola returns to the tale in a pointless film with nowhere to go, little to say, and even less of a thought on how to get there. If the first film showed us life for the Corleone family when New York was mostly the extent of its world, the second film expands to show us the enterprise in a number of different places on the globe and its encounters with corporate business and the US federal government. Part III attempts to expand the scope further, this time the power structure is the Vatican and the Corleone family runs a long list of businesses including a foundation in Vito's name through which most of the money flows. As Michael stated in the second film, his aim to become 'legitimate' has been mostly fulfilled. Most of the potential in this tale has been fulfilled as well; there are no pertinent details of the past to shine a light on (as in Part II's sequences of young Vito) and barely a loose end to wrap up in the characters' lives. Most of the people populating the screen in the first two films are dead by Part III and those left seem confused by the presence of the audience; like dropping in on characters long after the curtain has fallen, the last chapter written. Michael, Kay and the rest exist as hollow shells of their former personas, fictional creations without a storyteller, they wander about onscreen, aimlessly pantomiming drama and aping emotion. The Godfather Part III is, in large part, an imitation of what constitutes a film. Like a zombie, all the necessary pieces are there except for the spark of life. When Pacino's Michael screams, he seems to be screaming existentially as the character, aghast in terror that he did not vanish into cinema history when the credits rolled on The Godfather Part II, instead his likeness was unnecessarily revived and put on display without a reason for doing so, Michael seems to emote a primal horror at his own continued existence, a question: why am I still here?

We wonder the same. The film attempts to ignite a new plot thread, the childrens' children, Sonny's son Vincent and Michael's son and daughter, Anthony and Mary. All of these would-be plots compete with Michael for screentime, trying to carve out some sort of progression in the interminable sequences of settings meant to recall the previous films, in which nothing takes place. In the end, we barely catch a glimpse of these new characters, instead relinquishing our senses and bet efforts to understand to the plot's aimless this-way and that-way. We follow along as moments we don't feel in any way move about in front of our eyes. It is far more compelling and poignant to witness a character living their fictional life than to witness the character have a retrospective of their fictional life, and Coppola seems to forget this entirely. Were the film's focus on someone other than Michael, (as this is the first film in the series that the character is expected to solely bare the weight of the narrative) we may have a chance for the story to become solvent and involving. Instead it's a parade of call-outs to the first two films, at times complete with cutaways to footage from them. Hey, look, it's Johnny Fontane. Settings are revisited, new characters are introduced just so that they can double-cross old ones, old characters recur but are shadows of their former selves, some unrecognizable and unable to stir relevance, or indeed and emotional whatsoever in the audience. What the first two film do so well is to breeze past as though their runtimes were much shorter. So entranced are we by the family and their dealings, their double-crossings and the larger implications toward society and our thematic notes of building and squandering. On this note, we are left with Michael's attempt to build and ultimately watching his best efforts fully squandered. Yes, Coppola's Godfather III cast of characters seem fully aware of the pointlessness of their actions, and the film they inhabit in general. By turns, our director's most genuine efforts seem to recall Senso or The Man who Knew Too Much in the theater finale, but all hopes as dashed in cheap tricks, as actor and director alike grope in the dark in search of a film. The culminating shot of Michael slumped over in a chair years later dropping the orange, now a completely glib joke given its overuse, is entirely without setup and passes in too short a time to have any impact. Why not open the film this way and allow us to fill in the blanks in extended flashback? 

The film is a sign of its times more than anything, no more could a dark drama with deep implications buoy in the tides of Hollywood in the early 90's. Filmmakers like Paul Verhoeven and David Lynch could speak in the bombastic and over-the-top language necessary for the new cinema, but Coppola instead comes across as cartoonish yet striving for more. The Godfather Part III is a sterling example of the state of change that had occurred in the film culture in the subsequent 16 years since the release of Part II in that it had been drained of all seriousness, it had succumbed to its own irrelevance. What had once seemed a great and noble tradition had become glib and meaningless. Hence the film itself, the heir to the throne and somehow completely impotent, unable to recapture former glory. Perhaps there was a story of redemption or of further downfall somewhere underneath it, perhaps a poetic death for Michael or some element of the story of the mafia left to tell, somewhere to expand the narrative, but it isn’t here, and the film certainly gives us no pleasures beyond plot. Just as the other two films the plays are all in the dramatic elements of the film, atmospherically and visually they are wisely sparse and call little attention to themselves. Somehow, the magic was gone for Coppola here, this lifeless shell of a film had nowhere to go from the start and somehow it still moves in the wrong direction.