Can any of us ever really escape our families?
I remember hearing things when The Godfather: Part III was being made—unflattering things that hinted at disorganization and potential failure. Psst. Francis Ford is fiddling with the script as they go. Hey, did you hear? Winona Ryder’s sick, they’re bringing in Sofia Coppola. His DAUGHTER. She’s AWFUL.
Somehow those words set something off in me, and I’ve felt protective toward Sofia ever since. She was only a teenager when the movie was made, not much older than me. How bad could she be? Could one girl really bring down the Godfather franchise? Fifteen years later, I’m proud of my blind allegiance. Who, pray tell was nominated for an Oscar while a certain someone did community service for shoplifting? Hmm?
Now that I’ve finally seen The Godfather trilogy, I really don’t understand why #3 never gets any love. Suspiciously, it’s the only one in the Anniversary Collection without a making-of documentary to accompany it, but it’s easily my favorite. Old Sofia doesn’t stink that much. She’s not an awesome actress, but isn’t it possible that Michael Corleone’s daughter turned out to be a bit of a goober? Besides, it’s clear that she and Michael would walk over fire for each other, and that’s all we need to know.
The Godfather I and II are great movies, but there’s something a little too perfect about them. In the third installment, the characters are more reflective (what the hell happened to Fredo, anyway?) and more active. Ultimately, they become three dimensional. The Godfather: Part III has a wonderful emotional messiness to it: more passion, more tragedy, more flaws. It’s not as tight as its predecessors, but that’s exactly why it lets the audience in. It also brings the story together and ties it up with a tidy little bow.
At long last, Michael (Al Pacino) has the room to reflect upon the events of his life—the murder of his first wife, the dissolution of his marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton), whom he still loves, and the strained relationship with his children. Mary (Sofia Coppola) is absolutely loyal, but Anthony wants no part of his father’s business. He wants to be an opera singer.
Michael has been trying for years to go straight, but Sonny’s illegitimate son, Vincent (Andy Garcia), is new on the scene, and can’t wait to get into the family business. He has the same impetuous personality as his father, and suddenly I was reminded why I like Andy Garcia—he can be quite naughty when he wants to be. In fact, Vincent’s overzealous desire to kill Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) would be comical if it weren’t so scary, “I say we kill him! Well, can we kill him now? How about after dinner?” There’s the shocking scene where he leans in to hug Mr. Zasa, and instead bites off his ear, and he’s not above baiting the bad guys with Bridget Fonda. Oh Vincent, you are a very bad boy.
Unsurprisingly, Mary has the hots for him, and their pervy first cousin love affair is actually kind of sexy, er, I mean gross. Michael forbids it, as it is wrong and dangerous, but they are drawn together like magnets—the future Godmother and Godfather of the Corleone family. Rawr!
As history begins to repeat itself, Michael becomes increasingly distressed, and delivers one of my favorite movie lines of all time, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” I’ve known the line for years, but didn’t expect the flailing and babbling that follows as Michael has a diabetic stroke all over the kitchen. Now this is interesting!
The stroke marks the official beginning of Michael’s decline, and it’s truly depressing to watch this powerful, dignified figure sink onto a bench, desperate for orange juice and candy because his blood sugar has dropped too low. In an attempt to make amends with Kay, he takes her on a tour of Sicily, but must ask her to drive home because his eyes are bad. We find him vulnerable and a bit needy in this movie. It is touching not because he’s the Godfather, but because he turned into someone he never meant to be.
The story culminates at the opera, where Anthony is making his debut. It is in many ways the best and worst night of Michael Corleone’s life. His family is together again, enjoying his son’s success, but at the same time, a number of hits are taking place, and Michael is still in the crosshairs. Even the formerly passive Connie (Talia Shire) gets in on the action.
As they leave the opera, Michael meets a fate worse than death, and after years of composure, he breaks down in sobs. I won’t spoil it for you, but the scene is so moving that for the first time in 9 hours of Godfather movies, I started to cry too. Michael Corleone is a ruined man, destined to die alone in the dirt. It’s a horrible thing to be born into the mafia, but the movie poses a more haunting question: can any of us ever really escape our families?