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Redemption of a Godfather

Published Dec. 24, 1990|Updated Oct. 18, 2005

The Don wants out. It's 1979, Michael Corleone is in his 60s, and he's tired. In The Godfather Part III, Corleone, as portrayed by Al Pacino, pursues his lifelong dream of legitimacy, divesting his holdings in organized crime and vying for control of a large European conglomerate. He sets about mending personal fences, squaring things with his ex-wife Kay and his grown children, Tony and Mary.

After much prodding by Kay, Corleone permits Tony to drop out of law school and pursue a career as an opera singer. Although it's against his better judgment, Corleone is willing to go along if it will mean restoring ties with his former wife.

But Corleone's past haunts him. There's too much baggage, a legacy of violence and duplicity. His old mob cronies won't let go. In time, they conspire against him. "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in," Corleone muses, after narrowly escaping a mass assassination of Mafia dons during a council meeting that was to have been his farewell.

Godfather III is about one man's quest for redemption, spiritual and worldly. As a character study it works beautifully. Pacino _ his burry salt-and-pepper hair standing straight up, his face jowly _ dissolves into Michael Corleone. A heavy-lidded weariness has replaced the steely stare of the past. He speaks in a gravelly whisper, save for the times that his fiery temper flares up. Corleone's instinct still is to control all that surrounds him. It's a tough habit to break. But in the new installment, Pacino plays the Don with more depth, more heart, more palpable pain.

As the summation of a legendary mob trilogy, however, Godfather III lacks the grace of its predecessors. The plot is tangled, even muddy at times. Subplots are introduced, shelved and resolved later in one line of dialogue.

Corleone bails out the Vatican bank to the tune of $600-million in return for controlling share of a fabled European real estate cartel called International Immobiliare. His former crime associates want a stake; the established members of the corporation's board resist the influence of a reputed Mafioso. It's an intriguing plot element, but one that gets swallowed up by a maelstrom of other occurrences throughout the film.

Again, the Catholic church is a major player. Director Francis Ford Coppola fictionally explores the dichotomy between the Vatican's religious mission and its involvement in high finance that necessitates doing business with gangsters. The Corleone family uses the church only for its ritual and cloak of legitimacy. When Connie Corleone, a role reprised by Talia Shire, steps over the line and orders a hit, she does it in the pews of a church.

Coppola takes matters a shade too far, when he includes, near film's end, the fatal poisoning of newly ordained Pope John Paul I. This rewriting of history (John Paul I did die shortly after becoming the pontiff in 1978), in no way crucial to the film's dramatic arc, smells like a move to stir up controversy.

Godfather III introduces several new characters. Bronze-skinned George Hamilton, as Corleone's investment attorney, and Bridget Fonda, a photojournalist, are mere wallpaper. But Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the "bastard son" of Michael's late brother Sonny Corleone, emerges as the heir to Corleone's mob interests. Garcia's explosiveness gives Godfather III its ties to the cutthroat ways of the Cosa Nostra.

Coppola's most controversial casting move was handing his daughter Sofia the role of Mary Corleone (after Winona Ryder pulled out). Her decidedly ethnic look adds a bit of authenticity, but ultimately the young actress comes off as amateurish. Mary is desperately in love with Vincent, her first cousin, and he appears to reciprocate. But the couple's romance is muted, absolutely devoid of spark.

Like the first two installments, Godfather III is epic in tone, moving between New York, Sicily and the Vatican. The film incorporates a series of grandiose blockbuster scenes. After Michael receives a prestigious award from the Catholic Church for his philanthropic largesse, a lavish reception takes place at his New York penthouse. It recalls the wedding scene from the Godfather (Johnny Fontane, played again by Al Martino, even drops in to sing a number).

When Tony Corleone makes his operatic debut in Sicily, Coppola adroitly choreographs a scene in which assassins and bodyguards move stealthily through the theater, killing and being killed to the melodramatic strains of arias. The long segment brims with tension.

Still, the film's best moments are when Michael Corleone quietly confronts his demons, reconciles his past, and even submits to the sacrament of confession for a well-meaning Cardinal.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Godfather Part III

+ + +

Starring: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola

Rating: R

Running Time: 160 minutes

Excellent +++++; Very good ++++;

Good +++; Mediocre ++; Poor +

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