Long the black sheep of Francis Ford Coppola's epic American Godfather trilogy, The Godfather Part III is now available on its own, separately from the terrific Godfather DVD Collection so that everyone can thumb their noses at it away from its more deserving brothers. The passage of time has cooled the white-hot hatred this film received upon its release in 1990, it's probably safe to say that while the vitrolic fanboy bashing has somewhat subsided, most still regard this concluding film as the wretched stepchild, the abomination that dulls the luster of the first two Godfather films.
Critics ripped into the film for its morose tone, its sprawling, unfocused and confusing narrative, the casting of Coppola's daughter, Sofia, in the pivotal role of Michael Corleone's daughter Mary - the list stretches on and on. But is the film truly that awful? No, not really. Sure, it's nowhere near the pinnacle of the first two Godfather films, but considering how some trilogies wind down (here's lookin' at you, Matrix), it could be much, much worse. Dispensing with the carefully observed minutiae of mob life and instead choosing to deal in vast conspiracies involving the Catholic Church, Coppola and Mario Puzo step away, somewhat, from what makes the Godfather films so innately compelling. It's difficult to become emotionally involved with the tragic downfall of Michael Corleone when it's difficult to tell just what the hell is transpiring onscreen.
The Cliff's Notes version runs something like this: In the late Seventies and early Eighties, an aging Don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, as fine as he's ever been) races to legitimize the family business after decades of false starts and thereby remove himself from the increasingly violent and tumultuous underworld - of course, he's drug back by the voracious ambitions of young upstarts, like Sonny's bastard son Vincent Mancini-Corleone (Andy Garcia), who aside from being a hot-head, has designs on Michael's daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola). Michael attempts to link his family's finances with those of the shadowy and mysterious Catholic Church through a corporation. As he finalizes this extremely sensitive deal, he must contend with Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna), who's gunning for the top spot and in the process, upending the existing power structure.
If that sounds like an overly busy synopsis, well, the film doesn't want for narrative density. It's an - at times - overly chaotic three hours that fairly rushes to hit the big, dramatic moments while often fumbling the smaller, more intimate moments. Perhaps this is where the source of so much Godfather fandom's frustration lies - throughout the first two films in the trilogy, it's the quiet, unadorned moments that stand out and stick with you long after the famous lines of dialogue or iconic sequences have faded. Think of the close of the second Godfather film as Michael flashes back to a moment in his early twenties - the understated grace with which that scene unfolds packs an emotional punch that informs the whole of The Godfather Part II. Scenes that should have such resonance in the third film do not, as Coppola seems in a hurry to get to his operatic set pieces and echo earlier, more emotional triumphs through suggestion and allusion.
At any rate, it should be noted that The Godfather Part III doesn't necessarily deserve to be cast out among the cinematic dross just because it fails to consistently hit the highs of its predecessors - it's still a fitting, if erratic, close to one of the great achievements in American film and ushered in a new decade of creative rebirth for Papa Coppola. It's ironic that the major theme of the film deals with Michael's sin, atonement and forgiveness; there are some who may never forgive what are generally perceived as slights to fans - the casting of George Hamilton as an ersatz Tom Hagen figure springs to mind - but perhaps with those who held out from purchasing The Godfather DVD Collection solely to spite The Godfather Part III will allow the film, taken in context with its revealing commentary track, a reprieve.
By all appearances and after a quick comparison, it seems as though this single disc release of The Godfather Part III makes use of the exact same transfer as The Godfather DVD Collection - which is to say, despite being the newest of the films in the trilogy, still doesn't look all that hot. Grain plagues the image throughout the film, which is a problem since much of the action tends to transpire in the lovely, low-lit rooms given life by cinematographer Gordon Willis. Aside from the grain issue, the image gets soft at times, but is otherwise an OK transfer of what deserves better treatment.
Offered in Dolby Digital 5.1, this remastered mix is likewise a duplicate of the previous release. The action sequences pack some punch and the dialogue - both whispered and shouted - comes through loud and clear. Carmine Coppola's musical themes lace the edges of the action and all around, it's a nice aural mix.
There's not much in the way of bonus material here; consider it a case of quality over quantity. The main attraction is, of course, the commentary track contributed by Coppola - genial, involving and full of passion about his film, Coppola holds sway for close to the entire length (170 minutes) of The Godfather Part III. It's a great track that actually clears up a lot of misconceptions and helps re-position the film within The Godfather's universe. The film's theatrical trailer, in anamorphic widescreen, is also included.
A much maligned and battered film, The Godfather Part III is somewhat better than its reputation might suggest. Re-releasing the film as a solo disc, apart from the well-received The Godfather DVD Collection, might inspire fans to, at the very least, find it in their hearts to rent the film and hear what Coppola has to say on his insightful commentary track. Recommended.