The Godfather: Part III

The Godfather: Part III ★★★½

Watched on Blu-Ray

Francis Ford Coppola had not actually intended to make a third film about the Corleone story, as he felt that the story was finished with the end of the second part, but a series of commercial failures in the 1980s forced him to take another look at Michael Corleone and his relatives. Coppola was not really satisfied with the final result, even though "The Godfather Part III" received positive reviews, he wanted to film the script version favoured by him and Mario Puzo entitled "The Death of Michael Corleone", but this met with resistance from the producers. The third part sees itself as an epilogue to the large-scale family saga, building on many of the elements already established, but in many places it seems unnecessarily inflated and overloaded, which is only partially remedied by Coppola's cut, made in 2020, which I discuss in a separate paragraph.

As in the previous parts, it is a festive occasion that provides the starting point for the story, namely the awarding of the Order of St Sebastian to Michael by the Vatican. Similar to the wedding in Part One or the confirmation in Part Two, the family and the business meet on this occasion, which has grown even closer together during Michael's aegis as head of the family and has meanwhile become so closely intertwined that at times there is an overlapping of both levels. This is particularly evident in Michael's relationship with his daughter Mary, which is important for the film, who indirectly accuses her father of instrumentalising her for his own purposes when she transfers a cheque intended for charity to the archbishop. Michael binds his family to himself precisely through those transactions, through his contracts and decisions, which causes irritation at several points and in a way lays the foundation for all those conflicts that come to the fore in the third part of the saga.

Again as a unifying motif to the previous parts is Michael's understanding of himself as a protector and businessman. When he confesses to his now grown-up children that he does all this to protect them from "the horrors of the world", although, as Kay accuses him at one point, he has become perhaps the greatest monster, with which, in view of the events of this film as well as the previous ones, she is not entirely wrong. The balancing act between gangster and businessman is risky and at the same time strangely abstract, since, as Michael himself says, there seems to be little difference between the two roles.

In a way, the confusion of the third part, which many critics accused the film of, results from the very hierarchy that Michael has built up and from his search for absolution. Even if this was more a consequence of Robert Duvall's departure, it is significant that Michael's constant companion is now the B. J. Harrison, a shrewd lawyer whose deadpan facial expressions reflect that ambivalence and Janus-facedness that is at the heart of the Corleone family, which fully rises to corporate status in the third part. A quick-tempered temper and emotions no longer have a place in this world, so Michael moulds and shapes Vincent as his successor according to this pattern, which is part of probably the most interesting transformation of the film, namely that of a passionate stubborn man to a slick "lawyer" whose facial expressions are just as inscrutable as those of his mentor.

The shift of the action to Italy, which takes place about halfway through the film, is consistent. Here Coppola and Puzo tell in intimate and meaningful dialogues about the search for an origin, the encounter with an immeasurable guilt, which culminates in a confession scene that in many ways forms the dramaturgical core of this third film and underlines the simple means with which an actor like Al Pacino lets a situation speak for itself and opens up to the viewer a brief glimpse into the inner life of a character whose suffering, as the priest tells him, seems to be both emotional and physical.

On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the third part, Coppola was given the opportunity by Paramount, as he says in the introduction to the new version, to create a new cut that comes closer to the script he and Puzo originally conceived. "The Godfather, Epilogue: The Death of Michael Corleone" sometimes sets slightly different accents than the versions available to date, arranges scenes or sequences differently and at times seems a little more focused. However, even this new version cannot completely eliminate the problems that are still present in the story, namely that there are still too many plot lines and that some of them not only seem unnecessary, but also disrupt the narrative flow. In addition, the division of the film, which is reflected in the change in the location of the action, has now been removed, which does not always make sense, especially in the middle section.

Both in its original version and the new cut, "The Godfather Part III" is still a gripping conclusion to the family saga of the Corleones. Even if Coppola's film does not reach the level of the previous parts, it succeeds in creating a worthy epilogue thanks to the lavish set and a convincing ensemble, even if it seems somewhat redundant in parts.

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