So we’re now in 1979, with Michael (Al Pacino) still the Don of the Corleone family but looking to finally severe all his mob allegiances. He’s spent some of the two decades since he ordered his own brother’s murder trying to redeem himself and his family, working to make the Corleone name legitimate. As the film opens, a 100 million dollars donation to the Vatican has bought him one of the highest honours from the Catholic Church, and he’s now looking to move all his business into Immobiliare, a European conglomerate currently overseen by the Vatican. Yet things won’t go that smoothly, of course, as the past keeps coming back to haunt him. Whether it’s crooks like Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who are unwilling to let him take his chips off the table or dirty Church officials trying to play him for a fool, everything is tempting him to resort to his old violent ways… “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
One of the biggest problems of “part III” is that Coppola and Puzo seem unsure of what story they’re trying to tell, or why these later adventures of the Corleone needed to be recounted at all. The whole Church shenanigans are bit hard to swallow. I do not doubt in the least that the Vatican has seen its share of corruption and fraud, and that it rubbed elbows with the Mafia, but in the context of this series of films, I don’t think it works. It’s a bit late in the game (after some seven hours of narrative!) to introduce a whole new bunch of allies and foes, and the fact that they’re supposed to be servants of God makes the whole thing feel awkward. I’m sure the picture would hold on better if it stuck to the general idea of Michael trying to go legit, with hard-asses like Zasa rocking his boat, even though this is almost all just more of the same we’ve seen before.
Even more than the mob hits, what’s most interesting about the “Godfather” movies is the way it portrays family. While most people don’t have to deal with violence on a daily basis, everyone can relate to the wide array of emotions one goes through with his relatives, as these are people who are around you through your whole life, through good and bad times. “part III” might suffer from occasional bad dialogue, hammy acting and ungraceful direction, but it remains interesting nonetheless because of our investment in these people. They’re almost like relatives of our own, as we’ve followed them for years. When we’re introduced to Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Sonny, there’s a special thrill in seeing how Andy Garcia has the same bad temper and cocksure attitude that James Caan had in the first movie. We’re able to understand Michael’s ambiguous feelings about recognising his late brother in his nephew, as we “know” him from the first movie ourselves.
Less effective is the depiction of Michael’s relationship with his children and their mother Kay (Diane Keaton). There’s some attempt to have Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosia) mirror the young Michael in his unwillingness to enter the family business, but he’s barely developed as a character. He’s just the singing kid, the excuse to bring the whole gang to Sicily to attend his first opera performance. As for Mary (played by Coppola’s daughter Sofia), she doesn’t do much either except engage in a not very convincing romance with Vincent: “I really love him!” “He’s your first cousin!” “Then I love him first!” Whatever. I didn’t buy Michael’s getting chummy with his ex wife either, how she’s all like, “I’ve always loved you Mike.” No you haven’t! You aborted his unborn son because you couldn’t stand what he had become, remember!?
Still, even though it somehow dilutes the impact of the first instalments, “The Godfather part III” retains enough of their qualities to deserve a viewing anyway, notably to watch another strong performance by Al Pacino, the true soul of the trilogy. He’s working with lesser material here than in the previous movies (the Godfather’s got diabetes now, for chrissakes!) but he remains engaging, and his climactic breakdown on the stairs of the opera house is wrenching.