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Francis Ford Coppola
Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton, Bridget Fonda, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone
Writing Credits:
Mario Puzo (novel), Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola

Set in 1979, an aging Don Michael Corleone is striving to legitimize his family investments and secure a peaceful future for his beloved children. But his hothead nephew has different ideas which could put an end to Michael's dreams.

Box Office:
$54 million.
Domestic Gross
$66.676 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 170 min.
Price: $49.99
Release Date: 10/9/2001

Available as Part of “The Godfather DVD Collection”

• Audio Commentary from Director Francis Ford Coppola


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Godfather: Part III (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 22, 2008)

In my review of The Phantom Menace, I stated that I feel it was the most highly anticipated film of all-time. Commercially, I don’t think this can be argued; no movie has been so eagerly awaited by so many. However, if I had to pick a flick that labored under the toughest critical standards, it probably would be 1990’s The Godfather Part III.

Look at the situation. The first film in the series - 1972’s The Godfather - was an enormous box office hit and it grabbed the Best Picture award for that year. Although it didn’t take many additional Oscars – of its remaining 10 nominations, Godfather grabbed only Best Actor for Marlon Brando and Best Writing - Godfather has maintained an extraordinarily strong reputation. It now stands second on the most recent AFI Top 100 Movies list. 1974’s Godfather Part II “only” snagged the 32nd spot on that chart, but it actually did better at the Oscars. The perennial favorite among discussions of sequels that outdid their predecessors, Part II earned six awards for its 11 nominations, including another Best Picture plus Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola, a prize that eluded him the first time. That year Bob Fosse won for Cabaret.

Imagine that you’re the third son in a family. Your oldest brother was George Washington and the middle brother was Abe Lincoln. Based on that lineage, you’d be subjected to insanely high expectations. Such was the atmosphere that greeted the late 1990 release of The Godfather Part III; whatever merits the movie might boast on its own, it’d have to live up to the examples set by its predecessors.

Personally, I think Part III would have been more successful without the Godfather connection. That link set the standard so high that it would be almost impossible to match up to it. Taken on its own, Part III isn’t a terrible film, but when compared to its siblings, its flaws seem much more prominent.

Part III starts in 1979, 20 years after the conclusion of Part II. When that film ended, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was a virtual shell of a man. After years of scheming and killing, all allegedly to further the interests of his family, he found himself almost totally alone and haunted by his actions. By the beginning of Part III, however, he seems to have loosened up quite a bit. Apparently he’s taken the family nearly fully legitimate in the ensuing 20 years, and as the story commences, Michael receives a high honor from the Catholic Church due to all his charity works.

This reunites Michael with his semi-estranged children Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) and Mary (Sofia Coppola) as well as his ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton). We also meet new characters like small-time gang boss Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) and Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Michael’s dead brother Sonny. Vincent wants a role in the family’s business – its real business, not this namby-pamby “legit” stuff – and develops a loathing for Zasa that motivates his behavior.

Essentially Part III follows Michael as he tries to redeem himself through non-criminal business dealings. He attempts to become a partner with the Vatican in a financial interest but soon discovers that the church is more corrupt than the Mafia. When Zasa and others try to off Michael, he gets drawn back into his old violent ways, and Vincent takes an active role in the proceedings as the apparent don in training. He also falls in love with Mary, something that displeases Michael since they’re cousins.

I won’t go further with the story because I’d rather avoid any possible spoilers. Suffice it to say that this sucker doesn’t have a happy ending, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise; none of the three movies conclude on a joyous note. It would have seemed artificial and forced to alter that tone for Part III.

While I’m happy that director Francis Ford Coppola kept that aspect of the saga intact, he made enough other alterations to make Part III feel very different from the first two films. The biggest change comes with Michael himself. Same actor, same director, same writers, but this isn’t the same Michael, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I thought the character seemed almost unrecognizable.

For one, I found it hard to buy that he invested himself so strongly in his attempts to go straight. During much of the first two movies, he paid lip service to that concept, but he only became more heavily embroiled in the crime. By the end of Part II, he’d lost everything near and dear; the possibility that Michael would eventually snap out of it appears illogical and inconsistent with the character. 1959’s Michael was a tortured, doomed soul; there was no going back for him.

Pacino plays 1979 Michael in a much more broad and gregarious manner as well. Oh, he seems tired at times, but he comes across as way too peppy and extroverted through much of Part III. For example, a scene in which he takes Kay on a tour of the family hometown in Sicily feels all wrong. I can’t envision even the young and idealistic Michael of the first film behaving in this way, much less the worn-out old man. By 1990, Pacino had become a much louder and showy actor than he’d been in the Seventies, and that made all the difference here. It hurt the film, for I never felt like this guy was even vaguely related to the Michael I watched earlier.

In the “good acting” category, Garcia stands pretty much alone. He brought much-needed spark and fire to Vincent, and he largely kept him from seeming like a stereotype or cliché. No, he wasn’t as full-blooded and real as the characters seen in the first two movies, but beggars can’t be choosers, and when compared to the rest of the performances in Part III, Garcia’s Oscar nomination makes even more sense.

Mantegna overacted relentlessly as Zasa, but he’s not the worst offender. I most disliked the cheesy, ham-fisted performance offered by Eli Wallach as family friend Don Altobello. Wallach really went over the top in the role and his presence made me cringe consistently.

Note that I’ve actually failed to mention the worst performance in Part III, Sofia Coppola’s legendarily bad turn as Mary. Yes, she really does as poorly as you’ve heard. I thought she was cute, but she couldn’t act her way out of the proverbial brown paper bag. I’m sure Sofia tried her best, but she was stuck in a bad situation and lacked the skills to overcome the circumstances. Her inability to convincingly portray any form of life, depth or emotion left a large hole in the film.

Even with better performances, Part III would remain an unworthy successor to Godfather and Godfather II, largely because of the character inconsistencies seen in Michael. A continuation of his story as seen in Part II was unnecessary; we knew this was a miserable man who would continue to pay for his sins. Part III’s alteration of that path seems illogical and almost insulting, and the manner in which it reminds us that we can’t escape our pasts feels patronizing.

I also disliked the film’s attempted irony. I suppose it’s meant to be shocking that Michael encounters so much corruption as he walks through the Catholic ranks, but this “revelation” simply felt forced and artificial. Ultimately it comes across as a cheap attempt at depth that goes nowhere.

It didn’t help that the film seemed to be sloppily researched. Part III takes place in 1979, but it involves the deaths of Pope Paul VI and John Paul I. Both died in 1978. I didn’t need to research that fact; I remembered it, even though I was just a kid at the time. No one associated with Part III was aware that they used the wrong date?

Perhaps the year was changed to distance the film from reality. After all, some nasty things are implied about Paul VI, and maybe it was felt that the alteration of date took the movie more into the realm of fiction. However, that makes no sense; if Coppola wanted to do this, he shouldn’t have used the names of real popes. Make up some names and we won’t view the story as being reality based at all.

Hmm… As I started this review, I stated that I didn’t think The Godfather Part III was a terrible film. That’s true, I suppose, as even with all its flaws, it still maintained a fairly interesting experience. Nonetheless, it’s not one about which I can conjure too many positive things to say. Sometimes when I write a review, I realize that I liked the movie in question more than I initially thought. Such was the case with Citizen Kane. When I screened it, I wasn’t that hot on it, but when forced to coalesce my thoughts for the article, I recognized how many strengths it offered.

The opposite was true for The Godfather Part III. The more I pondered it, the more problems I remembered and the less I cared for it. I could keep going and provide more defects in the film, but I’ll leave it alone. Suffice it to say that the Godfather saga should have stopped with Part II.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus NA

The Godfather Part III appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer showed more than a few flaws.

Sharpness appeared generally good. Most of Part III presented an acceptably crisp and detailed image. However, some softness interfered during wider shots, and even a few closer scenes looked slightly fuzzy. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no noticeable concerns, but some mild edge enhancement cropped up at times.

As was the case with the first two movies, Part III maintained a very brownish-yellow tone. As such, it offered a restricted palette, and very few bright or vivid hues appeared. When appropriate, the colors looked fairly solid, and they came across as accurate and concise as a whole. Black levels usually were reasonably deep and dark, and shadow detail often looked appropriately clear but not excessively opaque. At times some interiors seemed a bit muddy, however, and a few dimly lit sequences failed to provide the depth I expected.

I found the first two films to provide too many print flaws, and the same concerns arose during III. More than a few examples of grit, speckles, nicks and marks cropped up throughout the movie, and some heavy grain also appeared. Many have blamed the relatively high level of defects witnessed during Godfather and Part II on poor storage of the materials over the years. Perhaps that’s true, but then why does the much newer Part III show similar concerns? Overall, The Godfather Part III provided a problematic image.

All three of the Godfather films offered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks remixed from the original material. However, the first two worked from monaural stems, whereas Part III reconfigured a mix that already provided multichannel sound; Part III used a Dolby Surround track theatrically. As such, it should have given us easily the strongest auditory experience. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as the soundtrack of The Godfather Part III suffered from some of the same problems that plagued the first film’s audio.

For the most part, the soundfield remained fairly heavily anchored in the front speakers. There the music showed decent stereo separation, and a variety of elements cropped up from the side channels. These sounded moderately speaker-specific and didn’t blend terribly well, but they did add a good layer of atmosphere to the project. The surrounds contributed mild punch at times – such as during the helicopter attack scene or the climactic opera sequence – but usually they stayed fairly subdued and offered mainly reinforcement of the forward spectrum.

Overall, it was a reasonably good soundfield for the era, though it felt fairly sterile. Where the mix often fell short, however, related to audio quality. Speech often sounded sibilant and edgy, and intelligibility occasionally became weak; I had some trouble understanding a few lines. Part III suffered from some terrible looping, and this most strongly affected dialogue heard during exterior scenes. The entire track of Godfather provided an annoying echo effect, but that concern mostly seemed restricted to this looped speech in Part III. When characters spoke outdoors, the reverberation made their words sound ridiculously out of place and artificial. It became a genuine distraction and took away from the experience.

Some of the same echo also affected effects, but not to nearly as heavy a degree. I found most of those elements to lack much low-end response, as the piece appeared somewhat trebly and thin at times, but they were reproduced with reasonably good clarity and fidelity as a whole. The lack of depth seemed most clear during scenes like the helicopter attack; that segment failed to deliver the punch I expected. Nonetheless, it remained clear and acceptably accurate. Music also sounded a bit wan and free from bass, but the general range was reasonably good, and the dynamics improved during the opera scene. Overall, the soundtrack of The Godfather Part III was a mixed bag and I thought it was a disappointment, but it provided enough strengths to merit a “C”.

If you examine my grade for the supplements of The Godfather Part III, you noticed that I didn’t give it one. That wasn’t because the disc included none. However, this release comes as part of a boxed set that also includes its two sequels as well as a DVD devoted totally to supplemental materials. I didn’t think it was fair to rate this disc’s extras in isolation, since it wasn’t meant to stand on its own. As such, a review of the whole “Godfather DVD Collection” will appear that grades the total package.

Only one extra appears here: an audio commentary from director Francis Ford Coppola, who provides a running, fairly screen-specific affair. I enjoyed his discussions of the prior two films, and he adds another largely compelling piece for III, though I admit I found it to be the least interesting of the three. Part of that stems from my general lack of enthusiasm for the movie, but I’ve been entertained by commentaries that accompanied flicks I hated, so that factor doesn’t explain the apparent decline.

Instead, I think this commentary is less satisfying because Coppola seems to be on the defensive much of the time. The reception accorded Part III appeared to leave him somewhat bitter, especially due to the criticism leveled at his daughter Sofia. Coppola seems to feel she did a good job; he frequently defends her during the track and appears to believe that people slammed her as an indirect attack on him. I think he’s wrong, but his affection for Sofia offers some of the commentary’s most touching moments, such as when he chokes up a little because her character cried.

The track for Part III probably suffers from a few more empty gaps than I heard during the first two films, but once again, I don’t mind these terribly; due to the length of the movie, it’s almost inevitable that some blanks would occur. Overall, Coppola provides a reasonable amount of interesting information about Part III, but I feel the details lack appropriate depth. For example, he addresses some of the issues I discuss during my review, such as the differences in Michael’s character. However, he makes it sound as though he changed the tone and the role for no particular reason; I don’t get a real feel for the cause behind the shift.

Perhaps there was none other than a desire to do things differently. Coppola seems generally unenthused about Part III as a whole, and his remarks leave me with the impression he did the film mainly for the money and the increased exposure. His stature had declined badly through the Eighties, and he needed something to spark his presence again. As a guaranteed “A”-list project, a new Godfather film did that, but it felt like his heart wasn’t really in it; he even mentioned the peculiar form of hell that comes with continually being asked to remake the same movie. As such, many of his changes appeared to come just for the sake of change, and Coppola doesn’t do much to justify them here. Ultimately, the commentary seems good but not great, and I definitely prefer the tracks that accompanied the earlier films.

While not a bad film per se, The Godfather Part III really doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as its two predecessors. From some poor acting to a contrived plot, weak dialogue, and a myriad of other concerns, III remained reasonably interesting for the most part, but it failed to even remotely approach the levels achieved by the earlier classics. The DVD offered erratic picture and sound plus a fairly good audio commentary from director Coppola. The Godfather Part III is a film I’ll likely revisit occasionally out of curiosity, but I doubt I’ll ever care much for it, as it doesn’t provide a strong conclusion to the Corleone saga.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.625 Stars Number of Votes: 112
11 3:
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