Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Godfather Part III

Having recently re-watched all of The Godfather Trilogy, I thought a bit about reviewing them here. I changed my mind because doing so would seem kind of pointless. The first two films are my favorite films of all time and are so well known that reviewing them would seem redundant. Of course, I do think that many people my age don't have respect for these films and prefer gory bloodbaths like De Palma's Scarface to the subdued and melancholy atmosphere of Coppola's famiglia movies. But that's something else entirely.

I mostly just want to talk about The Godfather Part III. It's one of the most hated sequels out there for a number of reasons, but it certainly seems that Sofia Coppola's performance (or lack thereof) takes the brunt of the criticism. I'm not exactly going to stand up for her, but I will say that criticism of her performance is unjustly harsh.

Of course, the first thing I want to talk about is Francis Ford Coppola himself.

Francis Ford Coppola is a family guy. Having watched so much of the bonus content on the extra Blu-ray disc, my opinions of him were reinforced. Coppola really brought warmth to these movies by really focusing on the family. All three films began with some sort of family occasion and party: the daughter's wedding, the party for the son, and the religious honor for Michael Corleone. In the midst of this the respective Dons of the Corleone Crime Syndicates are giving an ear to less than honest people, honoring requests to have people offed and so forth.

This dynamic is really what made the story and the movies so popular. It's like any other family... except this family is involved in gambling, prostitution, and the occasional murder. But it all revolves around the family, the dinner table, the quiet moments between father and son.

Coppola really put himself in these movies by having his daughter appear in all three films. She was the baby getting baptized in the first movie, she was the "child on ship" in the second movie, and the daughter of Michael Corleone in the third movie. She was also in her father's adaptation of The Outsiders. All of this fuels the fires of nepotism, but it isn't Sophia alone who has benefited from her doting father.

Francis Ford's father Carmine contributed to the score of all three films as well as Apocalypse Now and The Outsiders. Carmine Coppola also made appearances in all three films as a bandleader.

Francis's sister Talia Rose Coppola (Talia Shire) famously played Michael Corleone's sister Connie in all three films. Francis apparently chose Talia so she could get her foot in the door.

Gian-Carlo, before his untimely death at the age of 22 in 1986, had appeared both in the first Godfather as well as The Conversation, Apocalypse Now Redux, and Rumble Fish.

The thing is... I don't have a problem with any of this. Sure, Sophia Coppola isn't the greatest actress in the world, but she clearly wasn't Francis's first choice. Winona Ryder fell ill and he had to quickly find somebody. Since his daughter had been in the previous two films... why not put her in the third one as well? As Michael's daughter, no less. I'm kind of a superstitious guy and I can understand putting her in the third film, but I can also understand a little something that Al Pacino said in one of his interviews about the making of the third film.

Pacino said something along the lines of: "Coppola is so good at knowing exactly what the characters are thinking at any moment. I don't doubt that there is certainly more of Michael Corleone in him then there is in me."

So who better to play the daughter of Michael Corleone than the daughter of the man who knew what Michael was thinking and feeling so well? From this standpoint the casting of Sophia really makes perfect sense. All Francis would have to tell her is "just be a daughter like you are to me... except you have to kiss Andy Garcia a time or two." So there really wasn't much for her to do because the role was more or less tailor made for her. The choice of casting is Francis's fault, but I don't blame Sophia because she really did do what was asked of her. She played the daughter. Certainly, not exceedingly well, but she did what was asked of her and nothing more.

Would Winona Ryder have done better with such a character? I guess we'll never know. But I think Sophia gets a little too much grief for her role.

The ultimate problem with the third movie (originally to be titled The Death of Michael Corleone but Paramount went shit-nuts and forced Coppola to change the title) is that it tries to get inside the head of an aging and regretful Michael Corleone. It tries to make Michael Corleone emotional... which is something we haven't seen since... well, ever. Michael gradually transforms into a ruthless and calculating zombie over the course of the first two films and it is almost impossible to know when he is actually telling the truth and not trying to "undress you with his eyes" as I've heard him described as doing. Michael is a shark.

So how can someone get inside Michael Corleone's head and make him appear as truly regretful and not like the asshole who had had his own brother killed in the second movie? The transition is almost impossible to make and I don't think it succeeded in this movie. I got the feeling that Al Pacino was trying to do his best, but I don't think Michael Corleone suffered enough or that Al really saw Corleone heading down the same path Coppola did. He should have been humbled a bit more. Oh, he lost so much and death followed him around, but I think he should have lost more. He should have been hated more. This movie was kind of a Michael Corleone pity party when it should have been a Michael Corleone gets his just desserts party. It isn't until the very end that Michael really feels the burn of his lifestyle, but is it too little too late? I guess that's up for debate. Michael loses his daughter and ends up all alone, dying in Sicily without a friend in the world. Perhaps it would have been more satisfying for me if Michael Corleone ended up getting killed with half an hour left in the film and Andy Garcia's character was left seeking vengeance and thus beginning a new era for the Corleone family. If nothing else, there should have been some flashbacks to the period between the second movie and this one to show just how Michael's descent into self-loathing and regret really began.

I just think Michael got off too easy as the semi-Scrooge type who vowed to change his life.

I should also mention that Andy Garcia's character did not exist in the book. Sonny's mistress was not pregnant in the book and therefore could not have given birth to an illegitimate child. Vincent Mancini is an impossible character. I get that these are Coppola's movies, but Puzo should have drawn a line. The first two films had been largely faithful to the book (with the exceptions of the parts of Part II that feature Michael's ascension as Don because the book doesn't feature any of that... Fredo is still very much alive at the end of Puzo's novel and the family is still in New York with Kay trying to cope with Michael's new life by praying with Vito's wife... something the first film sort of shied away from and instead showed Kay becoming horrified by Michael's turn), but I think that creating a character who could not exist at all in the book just goes against the grain for me. That is the biggest turnoff for me. Yes, I think Andy Garcia does okay, but his character is just Coppola trying to combine the features of all the sons with hopes of creating the answers to Michael's problems. I think that's laziness.

Anyway, I think I've covered most of what I've wanted to say. This film is very good if you can forgive its faults. You just have to sort of understand Coppola to really "get" this movie.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to give this another shot someday. I saw this when it came out and did not like it. But I probably did not like it because it was not what I was expecting, not because it was bad. That happens sometimes. I actually have this on dvd (the 5 disc collection of the movie series) and have never watched it. Anytime I think about watching it, I end up watching one of the first 2 instead.