I agree with you Francis Ford Coppola; this isn’t part of “The Godfather Story.” Even within the opening minutes it becomes painfully clear that The Godfather: Part III is extremely removed from its predecessors. This is true literally, as all returning characters are 20 years older and have aged accordingly, as well as figuratively. With a few obvious exceptions there is almost nothing connecting Part III with the other two Godfather masterpieces. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is finally ridding himself of his illegitimate business operations, atoning for his past sins through enormous acts of charity, rewarded by even the Pope for his good works.
As with all of the films in the series, Part III begins with an elaborate party, but something doesn’t feel right. Gordon Willis’ presence is still felt, gracing the film with consistently wonderful photography, but Part III is an entirely different beast altogether. Although Don Corleone has aged considerably since Part II, Al Pacino is clearly playing some other character. His performance is suitably committed, and he alone is responsible for what little gravitas exists here, but this Michael Corleone is “off.” Age can only account for so much. Michael’s surprising softness is somewhat acceptable, but Pacino imbues a theatricality and hysterical energy nowhere to be found in the cunning Corleone of old. He is constantly flapping his arms against his thighs like a feeble and confused child, and lacks much of the towering and intimidating persona from the originals. To be fair there are flashes of the former Michael throughout the film, and Pacino’s presence is ever-needed in light of his weaker supporting cast, but they nevertheless remain few and far between. This is not Michael Corleone.
Indeed, I personally have separated this installment almost entirely from its predecessors, cherry picking what I believe to be canonical in the Corleone saga and disregarding the rest. The dialogue, done no favors by Sofia Coppola’s infamously poor performance, is occasionally atrocious, with characters often explicitly spelling out the film’s themes. Ultimately it is the writing as a whole that condemns the film to this “alternate Godfather universe.” The story, dealing with the Vatican and corrupt businessmen, is convoluted and ludicrous, a far cry from the gritty originals. At times it is down right silly, with outrageous humor (intentional or otherwise) plaguing the film’s tone. Poorer writing leads to poorer characters. In Part I and Part II even the smallest of roles was memorable. Actors imbued each succinctly but competently written character perfectly, delivering smooth, subtle, and concrete dialogue to further build their roles and the world of the films. Here all newcomers are forgettable, lost in the cracks of the goofy plot, playing stereotypes or spewing heavy and lazy dialogue.
Luckily, for all of its faults, there is still much to enjoy. The returning cast, although dealing with lesser writing, are all given moments to shine. Pacino and Keaton’s chemistry remains intact, and Andy Garcia as Michael’s protege Vincent is the lone newcomer unscathed by weak character writing and dialogue. As Sonny’s illegitimate son he certainly contains remnants of James Caan’s formidable and fiery performance, but he carves out his own presence and solidifies himself as a worthy character in this iconic saga.
Ultimately The Godfather: Part III is flat. The stunning location of Sicily helps to alleviate much of the story’s deflated drama (there isn’t an ounce of suspense until the final 30 minutes) but it’s a silver lining of a let down experience. There are flashes of pure Godfather brilliance here; the aforementioned finale is suspenseful and riveting, and Pacino’s “Michael of Old” appears in the important emotionally devastating moments. A montage sequence of Michael remembering the women in his life, scored by one of the series’ most gorgeous musical cues, is worth the price of admission alone. However, it just made me disappointed the other 2.5 hours couldn’t have been as masterful. The Godfather: Part III is by no means a bad film, and when treated as a standalone it is solid enough, but it is too bloated, too silly, too “off” to deserve its rightfully iconic title.