When it comes to trilogies, usually the first one is good, the second raises the bar, and the third falls short of the second one. There are of course exceptions (The Bourne trilogy, the Indiana Jones series), but that’s usually the way it goes. When The Godfather Part III came out in 1990, the universal consensus was that the first two were masterpieces and the third one was nowhere near as good. There are indeed problems in Michael Corleone’s swan song. The story is a bit hard to follow, Robert Duvall is no longer there as family lawyer Tom Hagan, and Sofia Coppola was probably not experienced enough as an actress to play Michael’s daughter. That being said, it does have its moments of greatness, including the uttering of the line “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
I am going to end up repeating this part two other times as I move up Empire’s list, but the first time I saw The Godfather trilogy was when my parents, my brother and I rented it from ye old video store in Quebec City in 2003. We watched the original Star Wars trilogy as a family way back when, so why not move on to another classic series? I already knew Part III was regarded as the weakest link, because everyone from Richard Roeper to mobster Fat Tony on The Simpsons said it. Ironically, Fat Tony is voiced by Joe Mantegna who plays enforcer Joey Zasa in the movie. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the anticipation audiences had back in 1990, but watching the whole trilogy back to back I thought it was still a pretty solid exit for the Godfather.
Set in 1979, years after the events of the last movie, The Godfather Part III sees mobster Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) older and full of regrets. The execution of his brother Fredo by his orders still haunts him; he divorced his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), who took custody of his children Mary (Sofia Coppola) and Anthony (Frank D’Ambrosio), and his closest advisor Tom Hagan died years ago. Now with new legal adviser B.J Harrison (George Hamilton) Michael wants to put the past behind him and rebuild his family’s name by focusing on charity.
Unfortunately the past won’t let go. At a party following his ordination as a Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian, Michael meets Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), a hot-tempered young man and illegitimate son of Michael’s late brother Sonny. Vincent is in a feud with Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) an enforcer who has taken over the Corleone’s crime interest in New York City and has been pumping drugs into the Little Italy neighbourhood. Michael’s sister Connie (Talia Shire) who has become adept at the family business arranges a meeting between the two hoping cooler heads will prevail. Instead things escalate and after Vincent survives an assassination attempt, Michael decides to take his nephew under his wing.
Meanwhile Michael makes a business deal with an unlikely partner: the Vatican. Negotiating with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donelly) he buys stocks in International Immobiliare, an international real estate holding company and makes an offer to buy the Vatican’s interest in the company, which would give him controlling interest. As the Vatican Bank was running a massive deficit at the time, just like in real life, Gilday is very grateful for the deal. However Pope Paul VI, who is gravely ill, must approve it first.
To further complicate matters, Michael’s old mafia partners hear of the multi-million dollar deal and want a piece of the action. Wanting to keep the deal legitimate, Michael meets the mafia bosses in Atlantic City and offers them a generous buyout. Joey Zasa is amongst them and promptly leaves after Michael tells him he gets nothing. Shortly after the mobsters are massacred in a spectacular action sequence as a helicopter hovers from above the hotel. Barely escaping with is life; Michael realizes Zasa does not have the power to pull off a stunt like that. The enemy might actually be Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) an old family friend who also conveniently fled before the helicopter showed up.
The rest of the story takes place in Sicily, the Corleones’ homeland where Michael tries to figure who he can trust while salvaging his deal with the Vatican. He also tries to stop Vincent from developing a physical relationship with Mary. Two reasons: number one, they are cousins after all. That’s not healthy. Number two, despite his temper Vincent is on his way to becoming the next Godfather and Michael knows the dangers that entails. In a great scene Michael watches Vincent being handed over the power of the family. The poor fool has no idea what he is getting into.
Upon first watching it is difficult to keep track of the various Dons, cardinals, bankers, mobsters and corrupt politicians involved in the Vatican deal. The best scenes are the more personal ones, such as when Michael tries to patch things up with Kay, who backs away every time the family business rears its ugly head. Then there is a scene when Michael finally confesses his most heinous crimes to a cardinal who tells him he deserves to suffer, but still has a chance at redemption.
The cardinal is most certainly right about the suffering part. It is an unwritten rule that gangsters in movies must pay for their crimes in the end and Michael Corleone is no exception, despite his effort to move away from crime. In the end he will lose everything. A sad ending for a former war veteran who never wanted to be a criminal. This may not be the best ending to a trilogy, but throughout Al Pacino gives yet another memorable performance.