Um… “Godfather 3.”

10Feb18

This week I am finally finishing something I’ve put off for years: I’m getting through “The Godfather Part III.” I’m watching at night. I’m on Day Three.

I’m sure people have expressed why this film falls short of its predecessors. So I’m doing that, too.

It’s odd how you can see the movie running out of steam. It starts out in an ok place, with Michael regretting his past sins (mostly for killing Fredo), and we learn he’s spent most of his adulthood seeking absolution. He has become a figure of charity and has now angled his way toward running the bank of the Vatican, in a “the ends justify the means” kind of way. Had this movie focused solely on Michael’s path, it might have succeeded.

Might have. Pacino is at an odd point in his acting style. He’s no longer the actor he was in the early 70’s, but nobody could ask him to be. At the same time, he is playing a strange version of Michael that doesn’t exactly feel like Michael. I didn’t put much research into it, but I doubt he even has a look out of 1979. I’m not asking for disco dancers and punks hanging around, but it is New York in the 70’s after all. I don’t see one bellbottom trouser. Michael wears a little neckerchief sometimes – that’s it!

They also have some lazy cinematography. There are multiple scenes that start with Michael sitting. Like they wrote that in the script.

EXT. VERANDA – DAY

Michael sits in a chair. Connie sits in a chair opposite him. THEN they start talking.

The cinematography is weird in spots. Some scenes start with one-shots, then a reverse, then back to one, to eventually go to an establishing shot. It’s as if they wanted to save the reveal that they were in the kitchen like it’s a big surprise. Other scenes are set in random spots just because, and they don’t tell us anything about the characters. What do we learn about Michael and Antony and their relationship by setting a scene in a large yard, near a bench (aka “Michael sits on a bench”)? It seems more like they chose locations based on vacation desires than for effective story telling. Michael takes his entire family to Sicily so he can be consulted by Don Tommasino. What information does he learn that couldn’t have been relayed in a phone call? I get that Michael loves it in Sicily, but the last time we saw him there was for a solid, life-saving reason. These choices have flimsy motivations.

Then there’s the casting. Critics focused much of their anger on Sofia Coppola. I will not defend her performance, but then again, has any movie improved by casting George Hamilton? Whatever magic Francis Ford Coppola had when he found the four “nobody” New York actors who eventually all became Hollywood big shots, it’s gone (or, really, how often can you miraculously find a previously-undiscovered James Caan, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino AND John Cazale?). It seems like part of the movie wants to be about a new generation of Corleones succeeding the older generation, but there’s nothing on screen to defeat, at least in acting terms. Had they somehow gotten Duvall, and if the younger Corleones had somehow been able to stand up to and out perform the older guys, then this movie might have really had some juice. Instead we get whoever the heck played Antony Corleone, and whoever the heck played Tom Hagen’s son.

It’s those limitations in imagination that make the film feel less like a story needing to be told and more like a fan film. It references only past events, and lacks forward momentum. Strong ideas are presented with little support (“Now that you’re respectable, I think you’re more dangerous than ever”) or without follow-through. Michael laments the movie’s most famous line of “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” which seems to imply he’s going to fall back into his old killing-everybody ways for one last time, but then he goes into a coma (“Michael lays down”), then takes the family to Sicily. Later he defers power to Andy Garcia because “he’s strong.” Not to get back at his enemies, not to make sure he’s seen as a noble person, but just kinda because.

The legacy of “Godfather 3” is notable in its non-existence. One would think that the quality gap between the first two movies and this third one would have caused the usual cries of “They ruined the series,” which are so common today. Perhaps it’s just the nature of “The Godfather” being more adult films that they get treated with more mature reactions, as opposed to the reactions to every “Star Wars” movie since (apparently) “Return of the Jedi.” Or maybe it’s proximity allows for separation, with the third chapter coming almost twenty years after the good movies which allows people to remove it from their memories of what “The Godfather” means.

Bottom line: it feels like a wasted TV movie. There are parts that are interesting and fun to see (I’ll always enjoy Eli Wallach, even when he’s a complete ham, which is most times), but it’s so inessential that it almost wipes itself from memory.

This movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Seven. As in “seven higher than it deserved.” This was the same year “Dances With Wolves” famously beat out “Goodfellas” for best picture and director; so if anyone wants further proof that the Academy was out of whack can point to those awards. “Godfather 3” got an edition nomination along with “Goodfellas” (both lost to “Dances”). “Godfather 3” actually got one more nomination than “Goodfellas.” I don’t understand people.

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