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The Godfather Part III

The Godfather Part III

By Stephen Amos • December 14th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Paramount Pictures

Original release: December 25th, 1990
Running time: 170 minutes

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo

Cast: Al Pacino, Andy García, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Sofia Coppola, Eli Wallach, George Hamilton, Joe Mantegna

The Godfather Part III

To many people The Godfather Part III is the lesser of the trilogy, an anti-climax to one of cinema’s greatest stories but I believe this is grossly unfair. Even if it is the weaker of the three this is only because of the standard set by Parts I & II, which are often listed in the top 10 films or all time.

The Godfather Part III carries on the story of the Corleone family whose rise to power is brilliantly detailed in The Godfather Part II. It focuses on the patriarch, Michael, as he struggles to go legit and cleanse himself of the multitude of sins he has accumulated.

Many people believe that the main character in The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando. After all he was the biggest name, played the head of the family and of course, received the biggest cheque for taking part. However, the heart of the film, a heart that starts innocent and is slowly corrupted, is his son Michael played by Al Pacino. We start during the lavish wedding in honour of Don Vito’s only daughter. Here Michael’s role is to introduce as, the audience, to the family and the organisation with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) serving the surrogate for the audience. He is a clean cut soldier who, although aware of the family business, is not involved.

This is how Michael wants to keep it. After telling Kay a frightening story of the violence his family are capable of, he reassures her by telling her ‘That’s my family, Kate, it’s not me ‘. Inevitably he is drawn deeper and deeper into the family and, after the attempt on his father’s life, he starts to play a more active role. From here his journey is set and ultimately he takes over the role of Godfather after Vito’s death.

Part II apparels Michael’s consolidating of power with the rise of his father in the 1920s. Strikingly, Vito takes to the part with little resistance, more proactive than his son. Slowly his reputation grows as he shows equal capacity for compassion and cold unflinching violence. Michael, in contrast, has to rely on murder and intimidation. We see little compassion in his story and yet Michael always seems to want to be legitimate again, or at least he promises this to Kay. Watching Part II in isolation these promises seem hollow but in the light of Part III have more weight.

The Godfather Part III

This takes us to the third film, which, in many respects, mirrors Part I. Once again we start at a lavish party – this time as Michael receives a medal from the Vatican in honour of his charity work. The spine of this film is Michael’s attempts to buy a majority stake in International Immobiliare, an internationally renowned Real Estate company currently owned by the Vatican. The reason for this is twofold: Firstly to buy his legitimacy, after all, if the Holy Church is willing to do business with you, then you can’t be all that bad. The fact that only the Pope himself can finalise the deal can only strengthen the impact on the Corleone’s reputation.

Secondly, the papal bank has driven up a huge overdraft and the sale of International Immobiliare would go a long way in plugging this hole. From a personal point of view Michael is also racked with guilt for the events detailed in Part II, especially the murder of his brother Fredo. At one point, on a visit to the Vatican he has a panic attack and confesses ‘I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.’

In trying to go legit he makes a lot of enemies, especially Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who feels he is being short changed by the sale of the Corleone’s casinos. This is the thread that carries the The Godfather Part IIIfilm, the foundation to the drama and the violence that follows. However, for me, the true drama is Michael’s continuing attempt to go clean, via confession, business and, yes, even from trying to buy his forgiveness and his continual failure; this is the true heart of the film.

This battle is perfectly summed up in a scene filmed in one of the more mundane of settings – the Kitchen. Like many films a line of dialogue delivered beautifully by an actor on the top of their game can represent the film as a whole, and in this case, made it into the trailer adding more weight to a few words.

It’s night-time; there is a storm outside adding to the charged atmosphere in the room. Michael is pacing, his head spinning as he tries to work out who is behind the attempt on his life and the lives of the other family members in the hotel, he knows that Joey Zasa couldn’t have organised it. He knows that there’s another, a puppet master pulling the strings. For Michael this is a moment he dreaded. Everything was coming together and legitimacy was within his grasp. He understands it, he even respects what Zasa has done. But he was hoping the rules had changed, for him at least. His nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia) is old-school and naive. He wants revenge. ‘Well you tell him from me, that he can live, or he can die’ he says with a swagger. Michael wants none of it and bellows ‘Vincent, will you SHUT UP’.

Vincent leaves the kitchen accompanied by a role of thunder and flashes of lightning. Michael The Godfather Part IIIlooks defeated, he knows what needs to be done and he has no choice. Then the inevitability of it is summed up: ‘Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.’

This is the tragedy of The Godfather Part III. If Part I was about the corruption of an innocent, Part II was about how absolute power can corrupt absolutely, Part III is about the tragedy of never getting that innocence back. You may have power, you may have money, influence and friends and colleagues in the highest places, but if you live in a world of corruption then there is no going back. And ultimately costs him what he held most proudly, the life of his daughter.

In the end Michael’s demise seems to mirror his father, peacefully as old men. But Vito’s death is presented as that of an old business man at the end of his life, playing with a child, happy. For Michael death comes alone, in a chair, no one with him, a sad, broken man haunted by acts he could never undo.

The Godfather Part III

Stephen Amos

Stephen Amos

Stephen read Film Studies at Middlesex University in the 90s but after graduating found life got in the way of his desired profession. Instead he stumbled into Finance and today works in the accounts department of Coleg Y Cymoedd, one of the biggest FE colleges in Wales.

The great loves in his life, beside his wife and two children, are Blues music, amateur photography and movies. A fan of all genres lists his top 5 as - Pan’s Labyrinth, Cinema Paradiso, King Kong, Star Wars and Casablanca. You can keep up with him on Twitter @WelshBluesman

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