Godfather Part III

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THE GODFATHER III: A Denouement (The Opera).

May 30, 2000 (Updated Jun 11, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A most satisfactory denouement for THE GODFATHER TRILOGY.

Cons:The contrast between the earlier characters and the 1980's innocents may strike some as amateurish.

The Bottom Line: Vincent Corleone, the new Godfather, has serious competition these days -- other men, more respectable godfathers. They all carry on the work Vito Corleone began, and Michael Corleone continued.


Up front, let me say, if you watch The Final Director's Cut of THE GODFATHER III (170 minutes), rather than the theatrical release (161 minutes); if you see the whole trilogy within a brief period of time, I believe you will find THE GODFATHER III the most satisfying of the three films. Despite a few blurred scenes and a couple of possibly shaky performances, THE GODFATHER III offers completion, it offers closure. It is a denouement in every sense of the word.

The film begins in 1979. Nearly 20 years have passed since Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ordered the murder of his oldest brother, Fredo, and sat brooding the loss of his family and his soul in his Lake Tahoe mansion. He has left the lights of his sold-off Western Gambling Casinos to return to his Eastern seat of power. His spirit is still in disrepair, he still pines for his lost wife Kay (Diane Keaton), but his temporal power is beginning to reach around the World, and even factions in the Vatican are eager to deal with him.

THE GODFATHER III is an opera following on a grand scale the themes of the earlier films, and also is a macrocosm of Pietro Mascagni's opera "Cavalleria Rusticana" (itself a musical theater adaptation of Giovanni Vega's novel of the same name). We are on the verge of The Age of Reagan; the action and characters are largely sketched, more full blown; fitting the greedy stirrings, that loss of discipline in the larger society so obvious now.

Michael Corleone tries to bring his children closer to him; he tries to make amends to the World and to those within his touch. As in the previous films, there is an early ceremony, in this case Michael's investiture as a Knight of the Church, followed by a party at his New York apartment, where, tellingly, the attempts to sing the old Italian songs (so beloved in the first film) are thwarted because few of the guests can understand Italian, or know the words to the songs.

Characters old and new, high and low, gather to celebrate The Godfather's elevation in the temporal wing of the Church, and, as always, many of them have business to do with The Godfather.

[That's unbilled Speaker of the California Legislature -- later Mayor of San Francisco -- Willie Brown, in a cameo inside joke, asking Michael's help on a political matter.]

Michael gives a huge sum to the Church to establish an endowment, administered by his innocent, young daughter Mary (Sophia Coppola), to help the poor of Sicily. Significantly, Michael shakes hands with Archbishop Gliday (Donel Donnelly) after Mary has conveyed to the Catholic priest a cheque for a hundred million dollars. He says that the donation will be worth it if the Sicilian children actually receive it.

Much has changed in 20 years. Conciliere Tom Hagen has died, but his son (John Savage) is present, a priest on his way to the Vatican, and there is a new Conciliere (George Hamilton), more a Palm Beach retainer than a trusted friend. Even Catholic priests, symbolic of purity in earlier films, are here, wheeling and dealing with Michael over the future of the Vatican in the New World Order (which, as late as 1991, was just an erratic remark by President George H. W. Bush, glimmering in the mind of the average American -- if that).

Kay and the son who has stayed with her, Anthony, return. Kay wants Michael to help Anthony pursue an interest in music, but Michael wishes him, as career insurance, to complete law school as career. In his obvious desire to reunite with Kay, he advances funds on a limited basis.

Returning, too, is Sister Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), who has become a kind of Dragon Lady or, more to the point as the film develops, Lucrezia Borgia. (She based her makeup and character thrust, she says, on Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD, Wilder, 1950.) Where Michael wants to rise at last above his mob connections, Connie, stripped of her emotional ties, has come to revel in the uses of Crime. She is shepherding Vincent Corleone (Andy Garcia), a semi-nephew of Michael, product of one of long dead Sunny Corleone's romantic peccadillos. (You may recall an embarrassing incident on the day of Sonny's wedding to Connie.) As Fredo and Frank Pantangelli before him, Vincent is not getting respect -- here from his employer, Cappo Joey Sasa (Joe Mantegna). Michael attempts to get the two hotheaded men to compromise.

On the periphery is another new figure (somewhat, in function, like Barzini from *THE GODFATHER and Pentangeli in *THE GODFATHER II), a doddering, harmless looking old man, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach), who explains to Michael the unhappiness the other old Dons express because the Corleones have sold off their casinos without sufficient consultation; the uncertainty felt concerning new proposed agreements with European business leaders and Church Powers; and the bitterness of the younger Cappos that they may be left out of a division of the spoils.

The "horrendous attack" we have seen in the first two films, this time is suitably hi-tech, when helicopter gunships rake a glass domed Trump Conference Center in Atlantic City where Michael is meeting with the gang leaders. Many Dons are murdered, but a couple escape, including Michael, with the help of Vincent, further solidifying the young man's position.

As in past cycles, The Godfather is incapacitated. Michael suffers a diabetic stroke brought on by the stress of his worries, which encroach upon him both close to and far from home. Vincent must take over some of his duties.

On his own hook, impetuous young Vincent meets one of the local threats while Don Michael is convalescing. He does so at a street parade, recalling Vito Corleone's Assassination of Don Fannucci 60 years before. (It is also similar to a real life event which took place in New York shortly after the release of THE GODFATHER.) Vincent also becomes involved with The Godfather's young daughter Mary, his half cousin, setting alight a fuse that parallels the plot of the opera Cavaleria Rusticana, shown later in a brilliant montage which finishes the Trilogy.

Upon his recovery, Michael goes to meet Kay in Sicily (as he promised when in Hospital), partly to attend a production of "Cavaleria Rusticana," in which Son Anthony is to play the lead, and partly to see that those who have betrayed the family in Europe and America are revealed. Thus begins the development of possibly the most exciting, suspenseful sequence in all THE GODFATHER's. Michael through his anointed successor, Vincent Corleone, battles sinister European Forces, and remnants of Old Fashioned Crime in the Vatican, in London and, most of all, at the opera production in Palermo, Sicily. At the end, Michael has won, but lost his mind and his greatest prize. It is Vincent who must carry on the Institution of the Corleone Godfathers into the new Century.

As I say, The Director's Final Cut of THE GODFATHER III may be seen as a denouement, a winding down of the trilogy, the most satisfactory film of the lot. This judgment is especially true if we see THE GODFATHER III as a long continuation into winter of that scene which concludes THE GODFATHER II, where Michael sits, contemplating the horror he has wrought, amid the Autumn leaves.

The one glimmer of hope, properly Shakespearian, is that Son Anthony may stay in the theater and influence what is left of the family to go in new directions. [As, in a symbolic sense, did young Francis Ford Coppola?]

Most of the performances in THE GODFATHER III are broader, more operatic, than in former films. I especially like the way Talia Shire as Connie Corleone comes into her own at last in THE GODFATHER III. She is wonderful, as is Eli Wallach, the aptly named Don Altobello, among the newcomers.

When the film appeared, much criticism was leveled at Francis Ford Coppola for casting his daughter in a major role, as John Huston had been flayed for having Daughter Anjelica play a Juliet part in A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH (1969). Actually, Sophia Coppola does just fine. She is playing a young girl gradually reaching for maturity. In the beginning, she is very uncertain as a young girl would be, just as Andy Garcia, an experienced actor, appears awkward early in the film. They both gain confidence within their characters mature as the film progresses. In either case, can it be entirely ineptitude, or is it a conscious attempt to do what the part calls for?

Some present day viewers may protest that the final events are too operatic -- are, in fact, sheer fantasy. However, we forget, although the events did not occur on one night, that in one year (1978), Pope Paul VI died; his successor Pope John Paul I also died, very suddenly, after a midnight cup of tea; Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the present Pope, took the name of John Paul II, the first non-Italian top prelate in over 450 years. Conspiracy books were written about a whispered connection between these events and a huge Mafia-Euro-Vatican financial scandal, involving preparations for the new "Western Service Economy." The plot featured a prominent Vatican financial officer, who disappeared, and was found in England, hanged from London Bridge. A long, far reaching trial over the scandal ensued (implicating even Italian Romantic Movie Star Rossano Brazzi).

Take several nights in a row, or a weekend, to watch these three films as a unit. They are unrivaled in American Film in the trilogy form; unrivaled in Europe, except for Marcel Pagnol's "Ceser Trilogy." You could find worse ways to spend your time than to discover how close you, or the people who employ you, may be to the family experience of the Corleones.

Enjoy -- but be careful.

---------------------------------

*If you wish to read Macresarf1' Epinions of movies mentioned above, go to the following URL's:

THE GODFATHER --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-570B-191D3A8-392EF5B2-prod5

THE GODFATHER II --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-701E-296F98E-39319238-prod5


Recommend this product? Yes

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