A lot of people vehemently dislike this movie and I can’t really understand why. Is it as good as the first two “Godfathers”? Absolutely not. Is Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary Corleone so bad that it brings down the entire picture? OK, it’s not what I’d call a good performance, but it certainly doesn’t sink the picture. I am prepared to defend this film, but please allow me a minute to put on my hardhat and my trashcan lid as a shield before I proceed …
Incidentally, there will be spoilers aplenty, so if you’ve never seen any of the “Godfather” movies, stop here, bookmark this page, watch all three, and then return to review my twelve-cents worth.
OK, first off, even under the best conditions, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Francis Ford Coppola to top, let alone match, the first two “Godfather” films. They are considered two of the best movies ever made and some would argue that there was really no need for a Part III, as Part II ends with the moral and spiritual death of Michael Corleone, a dramatically appropriate ending, considering how Michael started off idealistic and had to destroy his soul (specifically ordering the death of his brother) in order to stay in power. When you add the fact that Paramount gave Coppola an extremely short time period to get “Godfather III” made and in theaters by Christmas Day 1990, you can begin to see where some of the problems started. Adding insult to injury, the original actresses hired to play Mary Corleone, Michael’s daughter (Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder) had to back out for reasons best left to internet rumors, so Coppola had to act fast to cast the pivotal role.
Let’s get the Sofia Coppola issue out of the way first. Coppola hired his daughter to play Mary, who had little to no acting experience. The choice has been considered foolhardy by many. However, if you listen to the audio commentary on the DVD for “Godfather III,” you’ll understand why Coppola felt this story was so personal to him and that his reasons for casting his own daughter made a certain artistic sense to Coppola. Objectively, Coppola’s artistic sense has been … well … bats–t crazy from time to time … but he has pulled magic out of disaster many times in the past. It was a huge artistic gamble that many people believe didn’t pay off … including myself. But … it’s also what makes Coppola … Coppola. The man has absolute conviction in his own heart, soul, brain, and balls. He has never played it safe and that’s why he will never be dismissed as an artist, despite his missteps.
Sofia’s performance is considered one of the most legendary “bad” performances in movie history. Which I believe isn’t fair. No, it’s not a good performance, but it’s certainly far from the worst in movie history. When you consider that she’s acting against the likes of Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Andy Garcia, Helmut Berger, etc., her performance can’t help but suffer in comparison. Plus, the role of Mary is an extremely difficult part and I’m not convinced Julia Roberts or Winona Ryder would have done much better at that time. Yes, they were technically better actresses than Sofia, but I can’t imagine either one of them pulling this role off at that point in their careers. People openly laugh at Sofia’s “valley girl Mafia princess,” but I also cringe at hearing Roberts’ pretentious deliberate way of speaking, in addition to Ryder’s mixture of earnestness and snarkiness that was her style at the time. Maybe someone of the caliber of Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone could have pulled it off, but it was not an easy role by any means. So, let’s cut Sofia some slack.
With that out of the way, many people complained about the convoluted plotting regarding the Vatican, conspiracy theories behind the death of Pope John Paul I, etc. To which I would respond, THAT folks, is my cinematic wheel house. I LOVE conspiracy movies and while “Godfather III” is not as good as Oliver Stone’s “JFK” or Costa-Gavras’s “Z,” it comes pretty damn close. This is one of the best conspiracy films ever made and I love how Coppola threw all kinds of paranoid religious, criminal, and political conspiracy theories into the hopper here.
This is a very flawed movie, but I think it’s a worthy companion film to the first two “Godfather” films. As Coppola has asserted, the main story is “the death of Michael Corleone.” It’s about a man who has made many horrible choices in his life and desperately wants to make amends as he enters the last years of his life. But despite his good intentions, the totality of his bad choices can not be overcome and it leads to more misery and despair. I also like the fact that the more he has tried to enter “respectable” society, “respectable” society is just as vicious and nasty as the one he’s trying to leave behind (i.e. the Vatican corruption angle).
This is a very good film and one that I will always enjoy watching. The scene I’ve included here is the ending, which is one of the saddest endings of a film I’ve ever seen. Pacino’s anguish in this scene breaks my heart every time I see it, especially since I’ve become a father. It’s so good in fact that I wanted to beat the crap out of some snarky idiots at a college screening back in the day who laughed their asses off because Sofia didn’t act her death scene in the same way Meryl Streep would have. Pacino’s performance is so good, so real, so f–king raw in here that if you’re going to let Sofia’s not-so-great performance ruin it, then you’re one of those unfortunate a–holes who prides themselves more on being clever and ironic than someone who appreciates something real.