Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Godfather: Part III

Back in late 1989—or it might’ve been early 1990—it was announced that another sequel to The Godfather was going to be released, causing a lot of excitement in the world of cinema.  I had heard a lot of good things and high praise about the works of Francis Ford Coppola, yet I hadn’t seen any of his movies at that point in my life.  I knew of the first two Godfather films and how they were considered classics, but I had also heard they were epically lengthy films to sit through.  At that time, the only contact I’d had with those films was walking into the family room while my father was watching the first film on Showtime one night.  I was around eleven at that time—probably 1980 or 1981and sat on the couch, watching it for a while up until the reveal of the horse’s decapitated head in Waltz’s bed.  I’m sure my father saw how horrified I was and ordered me to get to bed.  So, years later, when The Godfather: Part III was a few months away from being released, I decided to rent the first two films so I can go into the new sequel with the knowledge necessary.

Now, I’m not even going to try to discuss the first two films because they are so masterfully crafted and critics have been talking about these films for decades.  I love and cherish those two films and watch them—including part three—annually.  The first one is such a great story with all the players involved together in a great production.  The second one is probably my favorite Robert De Niro role he has ever played.  But the third one is why I’m writing this, because I just want to see if I can nail down what is wrong with The Godfather: Part III.

To recap, very quickly, the first film is Michael’s rise to take over the Corleone crime family, wiping out all the family’s enemies; the second is a back-and-forth story—showing in the past—Vito’s journey to America and how he rose to be as powerful as he became, while Michael’s present-day story deals with a big deal he has with Hyman Roth and how he deals with the betrayal of his brother, Fredo.

The third story, here, in part three, is somewhat interesting.  Twenty years later, Michael Corleone (Pacino) is finally achieving his goal his father—and then himself—has wanted since the start: for the Corleone family to be completely legitimate.  After a Catholic ceremony, where Michael is given a medal naming him
Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian, we’re introduced to Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone, at an after-party.  Also at the reception, is Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), who has taken over the Corleone’s crime businesses in New York and has beef with Vincent.  Michael decides to take Vincent under his wing and into the family.  While trying to seal a deal with the Vatican to buy their shares in an international real estate holding company called Immobiliare—and after a hit on most of the current crime leaders, found out to be ordered by Joey Zasa—Micahel suffers a diabetic stroke and is hospitalized.  With an okay from Connie (Talia Shire) and Al Neri (Richard Bright), Vincent organizes the elimination of Zasa.  Michael, much better but still in the hospital, chastises Vincent, Connie and Al for the hit.  As Michael is improved in health, he continues his quest to establish the shares in Immobiliare as troubles arise in that goal.  Trying to become a legitimate family, Michael soon finds himself back where he started.

Man, that was exhausting…and that was only the tip of the iceberg.  The story is really involved and for a complete set-up of the whole story, it’d take many more pages.  Not only that, but it’d give away too much of the story; with all its faults, it's still a good story.

My goal in writing about The Godfather: Part III is to point out what I think went wrong with it, since so many Godfather enthusiasts—including myself—sort of loathe this film.  When I first watched the film, when it was released in theaters, I loved it and saw nothing wrong with it.  As time went on, however, I had started to see that the film was inferior to the first two.  I couldn’t see how that was so, but I concluded long ago that it perhaps the length of time between part two and part three (sixteen years).  But watching it just the other day, it became a little clearer, especially after watching the entire trilogy, back-to-back-to-back.  So I guess I’ll go over what I had noticed, point by point.

I love how the film starts, showing the abandoned Lake Tahoe compound with the voice-over narrative of Al Pacino as Michael writing to his children.  Even when the film finally opens with Michael receiving his medal from the church, and the party that followed afterwards, was nice.  I think what bothered me was Pacino’s performance as Michael throughout the film.  He didn’t seem like the same brooding Michael we saw at the end of part two or even how serious he was through both parts one and two.  Now I know people change over the years and take on different characteristics as they get older, but it just concerned me somewhat.  Pacino always seemed to have a twinkle in his eyes when he should be dead serious, although he put on the Pacino rage when necessary.

Andy Garcia was a breath of fresh air when he’s first shown on screen as the bad boy (illegitimate) son of Sonny, who totally embodied his father’s persona and charm.  When he first walks in with the swagger of an Italian hood, starting shit right away, I loved it.  When he comes in to Michael’s study with the confrontation of Joey Zasa, I’d thought to myself that the film was going in the right direction.  Even the scene at his apartment with the reporter, Grace (Bridget Fonda), and how he takes out the thugs that were there to kill him...awesome!  Of course, his involvement in the whole Zasa murder scene was memorable—but not as memorable as the assassination scene in part two (which it seems they tried to duplicate here).  But once Garcia’s character is part of the Corleone family, he seems neutered and not as exciting; he’s actually boring as he just glares, stares and overacts.  It just doesn’t seem plausible that he goes from this street-thuggish personality to a sudden calm and collected nobleman.  The one scene that bothers me and sticks out as Garcia hamming it up is when he tells Connie he’ll take care of everything.  It’s so drawn out and made to look like some dramatic scene, but there’s no reason for him to act that way as he stares at her intensely and kisses her hand (a little too enthusiastically, I might add).

Of course, the one thing that’s pointed out every time this film is discussed is the performance of Sofia Coppola as Michael’s daughter, Mary.  Yes, her delivery of lines isn’t the best and some of her gestures, both facial and bodily, are a bit subpar, but I would never put all of the film’s inadequacies on her.  If anything, she stepped in when the original actress, Winona Ryder, backed out (so that she could take the part in Edward Scissorhands)she should be cut some slack.

As a whole, it really seems at times that the script was written right before some of these scenes were shot.  Most of the dialogue sounds as if the actors were reading it from cue cards and don’t have too much emphasis where it’s needed.  Awkward moments fill a lot of the scenes, sometimes having time drawn out when it probably should’ve been edited shorter (it almost seems like Paramount wanted to make sure this film equaled the running time of its predecessors).  When watching this film more than once, you find a lot of mistakes in continuity and editing.  For instance, after the scene plays out with Michael telling Mary she should stop seeing Vincent (with her awkwardly running away like one of the Brady kids), it finishes with Michael’s son, Tony (Franc D’Ambrosio), telling his dad that she’ll understand as time goes on.  We go to a few other scenes, obviously with some time—even days—going by, then there’s a scene with Michael and his son.  If you look carefully, they’re wearing the same outfits and sitting in the same spot as before.  Upon further examination and after multiple viewings, when the first scene plays out, you see Tony holding a piece of paper; in the later scene, Michael gives him the picture Tony drew as a child…which was the paper he held previously.  So actually, the chronological order should’ve been swapped.  That’s just a minor observation, however, and not that big a deal.  But when the seeing the whole film and noticing some of the other timing problems (whether too long or in weird order), I thought I’d point that out as an example.

Overall, I do enjoy this film and enjoy the many merits it does have.  For instance, I love that they bring a lot of characters—besides some of the main players—back from the previous movies…or even characters related to characters from the first two films.  Although most were cameos—like Enzo the Baker (Gabriele Torrei), Sonny’s mistress Lucy Mancini (Jeannie Linero), and Johnny Fontane (Al Martino)—seeing them made a nice connection to the older movies.  Even bringing back Michael’s bodyguard, Calo (Franco Citti), when he was in Sicily during the first film, was cool, especially since he had a hand in a part of the climax of the film. 

Like the first part of the film, the climax was also well done and was probably the high point of the movie.  If you can withstand the operatic theme involved, the whole suspenseful act as the assassins are trying to kill Michael was done very well.

So, the answer to my question—What’s wrong with The Godfather: Part III?—is not easily answered.  Vaguely, I can say that the whole middle part of the film is where it goes wrong.  It seemed as if it were hastily filmed and didn’t have much care into it.  As I’d mentioned, I think a lot of it was padded to try and duplicate the epic feel the first two films had succeeded in doing.  However, instead of it feeling epic, it felt boring at times.  If only Coppola would’ve taken a little more time with the middle third of the film and shortened some scenes, this could’ve been his return to glory.  Instead, as most critics probably would’ve said at the time, Coppola just couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a third time.

Well, with all that said and done, what’s my final “bit” on The Godfather: Part III?

Before even watching this film, I highly, HIGHLY, recommend that you watch the first two films more than once.  The stories involved are so great and in-depth that you want to watch it a few times to get to know all the characters involved.  It’s not to say it’s too complicated of a plot, it’s just as you’re getting into it, you may not absorb all that the films have to offer.  Brando and Pacino’s performances in the first, with De Niro’s in the second, are really what acting is all about.  At nearly three hours each movie, it’s going to take you some time, so get ready for an adventure that may change your life.  It did for me.

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