The Godfather introduced audiences to Don Vito Corleone, his petulant children, and the intrigue of organized crime in postwar America. In The Godfather Part II, the patriarch has died, his youngest son Michael is now the head of the Family, and the control of organized crime nationwide is consolidated under him – all while audiences are treated to brilliantly interwoven flashbacks of young Vito’s formative years. I could go on about how truly great either of these films is, but I think I’ll let the Oscar nominations, AFI top 30 listings, and AFPS Legacy citations speak for me.
By Part III Michael is 60, frail with diabetes and living in Manhattan in 1979. He bargains absolution for a lifetime of corruption, fratricide, and true love lost with a
multimillion-dollar charitable foundation bearing his own father’s name. On the home front, he’s dealing with the usual Family stuff aging mob bosses deal with: a son quitting law school for an opera career; a daughter smart enough for her age to be the chairperson of a nonprofit, but dumb enough to fall in love with her bastard first-cousin (it’s Andy Garcia – but still…ewww…); a long-estranged wife who still adores the man behind the monstrous deeds; and, of course, those greedy Archbishops running the Immobiliare – the largest privately-held financial institution in Europe.
It’s worth noting that even though the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I in 1979 and Vatican Bank Scandal of 1981 were practically forgotten by 1990, Part III makes the leap and connects both real, historical events to the fictional Corleone Family’s $600 million buyout of Immobiliare’s global real estate interests. It’s loan sharking on a grand scale – ‘give me controlling interest in the world’s largest real estate conglomerate, and I’ll cover the huge deficit the Catholic Church has run up via bank fraud over the last 50 years’.
Of course, Michael’s organized crime cronies want a piece of that Vatican Bank action, and here’s where the plot starts to really come apart. There’s a mass murder of the old bosses, a family trip to Sicily (and those vacations are never just vacations), a double- cross or ten by the Vatican, revenge killings of some improbably ‘untouchable’ political, financial, and Catholic Church officials, and ultimately, a 20-minute climax around an opera house that ends, I guess, in tragedy for the main characters.
I’m still not really clear on who exactly does what to whom throughout the film’s overwrought final act. Maybe that’s what makes this sequel a bad one – you compare the ‘settling scores’ acts in the first two films to the scene in the third, and it’s just not compelling. I think I can say without spoiling it for you, since it’s well-known that Coppola lost an argument with the studio to name the film The Death of Michael Corleone, that the title character dies a pretty ordinary death some years later, in the film’s final, regretful scene.
It still gets me that if you read around on this film, the consensus is that reviews are, at worst, ‘mixed to positive’ – and that the film was nominated for no fewer than 15 major film awards. That said, I think after 15 years, there weren’t many fans of the first two films still wondering, “Then what happened? I sure hope Coppola makes a Part III in 15 years!”
I’m equally confident that, like me, many fans of the genre we left thinking both, “I know she’s the director’s daughter, but why Sofia Coppola?”, and “Thank goodness Michael died at the end so I don’t have to sweat a Part IV.” after viewing this film.