I, like most right-minded human beings on this planet, adore Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather and Godfather Part 2. I love them. All I need to see is Bonasera proclaiming ‘I believe in America’ and I’m away. Absorbed.
The films work like few others do, painting a real universe and putting you in the middle of it, weaving a rich tapestry of unforgettable characters, heart-breaking portrayals of family life, and stunning, unforgettable set pieces. They’re films so ingrained into the public consciousness that without having seen them, most people can tell you the key sequences, the famous quotes, the general plot. They’re the kinds of films that transcend just being ‘films’ and become something else, something cultural, like Gone with the Wind or Star Wars, a true phenomenon.
And then there’s the third one. If part one deals with Michael Corleone’s literal rise to the head of the family, and part two deals with his spiritual descent once he’s at the top, part three has the most interesting job; portraying his life while festering at the bottom, coping with the guilt of ordering his brother’s murder. The third one is more or less reviled; frowned upon by fans, it’s called unnecessary, boring, pointless, and a mere rehash of what’s happened prior.
I couldn’t disagree more.
It is not a perfect film by any means, and some elements are woeful, but some people go about this film as if it is an atrocity, a cinematic crime, when it isn’t. It’s a very good film, with scenes easily as brilliant as what’s come before. But much like Michael living under the insurmountable legacy of his father, this film is also doomed, doomed by its predecessors, doomed by its reputation, doomed by itself.
I call for it to be re-evaluated. Because if parts one and two are five-star masterpieces that define a generation of cinema, then this is a four star film that is more human and gripping than a thousand other films I could care to name. It’s pure soap opera of the highest order, centred on a heart-breaking performance by Al Pacino simply trying to make amends with his life. It lacks the sheer iconic-ness of 1 and 2, but let’s be honest; if this was a mere rehash of those then it could never be anything but a failure. It takes the risk by trying to be something different to what has come before- something that is in itself commendable- and it pulls it off mainly successfully.
There are two big faults with it; the first is that the film is sorely lacking the presence of Robert Duvall and his character Tom Hagen, the Corleone’s lawyer. He was always key to the story in that he provided a moral centre. He was the only one involved with the family who could be described as ‘clean’, and as a result he was crucial because you always knew he would be there for the Corleone’s as someone on the outside who could be trusted, such as when he was sent to deal with the film producer in part one. He held the family’s values, but stayed away from the more nasty business the family was involved in. There’s a sort of replacement for him in this film in the shape of B.J Harrison, played by George Hamilton, but it wasn’t the same.
The second, and biggest, flaw is that Sofia Coppola should have never stepped in front of a camera. She is a fine director, but her performance in this is perhaps what people remember when they attack this film so fiercely. Her delivery is over the top and unconvincing, her range is almost non-existent, and I feel borderline wistful when I hear about Winona Ryder almost having her role. It is a horrible performance that ranks, for me, with Tarantino’s ‘acting’ in Pulp Fiction. I loathed that display and I loathed this one. I know the females in the trilogy aren’t the strong points, but come on.
But that’s it. That’s all I can really name. I liked Andy Garcia’s character and performance. I didn’t have issues with the mild incest themes inasmuch as they were never so prominent that they detracted from the film. I teared up spectacularly at Michael’s confession. The finale at the opera was absolutely breath-taking. When Michael did that scream at the end, my blood ran cold and my heart skipped a beat. It’s a truly thrilling conclusion that ties up the saga as nicely and I could have wanted it to.
It also, crucially, spends a lot of time on the relationship between Michael and Kay, and for this I am grateful; their relationship was the crux to the first two films. What happens between them here represents precisely what the film is trying to present; Michael making amends for his past mistakes, his sins.
And it’s that pervasive sense of redemption is the undercurrent to this picture, and it carries the film along beautifully to its conclusion. As a portrayal of guilt and regret, this cannot be faulted. By taking a character we know and have come to love, and putting him in the scenarios he’s put in here, the film could not possibly have failed. Bar my two problems, this is a worthy sequel, overshadowed by its forbearers, but gripping enough so that its two and a half hours never feels dragged out. This is not a film that should be reviled, but admired, and appreciated. It is true cinema, and people forget that all too often. It’s a damn shame, because this is a fine film.