The Godfather: Part III

Year: 1990
Studio: Paramount
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola/Mario Puzo
Cast: Al Pacino, Diane keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton

I was never the biggest fan of the original Godfather movies, so I probably wasn't as disappointed by this movie as I remember people being (for some reason, another detail that stands out in memory is that Winona Ryder – who was the it girl of the moment back in the late 80s – bowed out of the role that went to director Coppola's daughter Sofia because of exhaustion).

In simplest terms, the theme of the film can be boiled down to 'he who lives by the sword dies by the sword'. The now aging Michael Corleone (Pacino) is one of the richest businessmen in America, and he has the chance to strike a deal to control a corporation owned by the Vatican that might make him one of the richest, most powerful men in the world.

But his past continues to dog him, from ex wife Kate's (Keaton) snide reminders that his soul will never be clean after what he's done in his life, to a high powered meeting of capos in Atlantic City that's broken up by a helicopter-mounted machine gun attack.

In grand Godfather tradition the film starts with a lavish party celebrating an endowment of the Vito Corleone Foundation, the charity Michael has set up with his blood money in his father's name. He only has eyes for his beloved daughter Mary (Coppola, quite beautiful back then) and has to give in when his son Anthony – far less forgiving of his background – wants to drop out of law and be an opera singer.

At the party, a feud over the old Corleone criminal empire's turf is bought before Michael – between the local Mafiosi who now controls the old neighbourhood and has run it into the ground, and a hotheaded young family relative, Vincent (Garcia). The kingpin wants to be left alone, Michael wants the violence and criminality of his old life to leave him alone as he tries to go legit, and Vincent wants to restore the family to its former violent glory.

Michael takes Vincent under his wing, impressed by his loyalty, but at the same time and despite being first cousins, Vincent and Mary start falling in love. As political and mafia jostling cause dead bodies all the way from Sicily and the Vatican to New York, Michael realizes how dangerous things have become for him and his family again. After he and Kate make peace, the whole family comes together to watch Anthony's debut performance in Italy, and with Vincent and his men on alert and the forces of a master assassin lurking, it all comes to a violent conclusion.

The latter half (when the newly elected pope, a corrupt Catholic archbishop and a small coterie of former mafia dons all jostle for position around Michael) can get a bit confusing – especially if you have subtitles turned off during several scenes with Italian and Sicilian characters.

But it's a weighty follow-up to a classic franchise. My impression is that Coppola never wanted to portray the gaudy guns, drugs and neon end of crime the way De Palm did in Scarface, but wanted to talk about the family ties and politics of the whole mafia enterprise in America. Much like any modern war, it's a lot of talking and strategising with occasional bouts of violence.

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