I remember when The Godfather Part III came out and I had a little bit of knowledge towards the film's production and the various casting issues that occurred, such as Robert Duvall's refusal and Francis Ford Coppola's daughter Sofia replacing Winona Ryder at the last minute and both Coppola's receiving a heap of abuse, the father for perceived nepotism, the latter for her work in the film. And as time quickly passes and the controversy surrounding the film becomes a little more forgotten (we are coming up on a quarter century since the film was released, after all), now seemed as good a time to revisit things.
Coppola and Mario Puzo reunited to write a screenplay for the final installment, which is set in 1979 and sees Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, Righteous Kill) is older and living life away from the precision and ruthlessness we saw in Part II, to the point of delegating most of his work to Joe Zasa (Joe Mantegna, Criminal Minds), a higher visibility mobster in the vein (presumably) of John Gotti. Michael wants to spend more time around with his daughter Mary (Sofia), but he also attempts to reconcile with his now ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton, The Big Wedding). Without Michael's knowledge, Zasa has expanded yet besmirched, the empire that Michael helped build. Michael eventually finds out about this from Vincent (Andy Garcia, Ocean's Eleven), a bastard son by Michael's late brother Santino. Michael tries to balance his attempts at legitimacy while attempting to distance himself with a business that refuses to let him go.
I think that some of what has been talked about copiously when it comes to Part III is a little hyperbolic. I agree with the masses that Garcia captures the conflict between wanting to do more in the business with his feelings for Mary nicely, and his rage that he turns on like a switch, much like his father, is the biggest part of the film. Lesser spoken but just as nice to watch is Pacino. Barely 50 at the time himself, Pacino plays Corleone with a world weariness which seems to put him older than the 60 Michael is supposed to be. Coppola tells this portion of Michael's life and guilt nicely, even more so with Pacino's contribution. Even to a contrarian level, Sofia's performance as Mary is not horrible. Granted, there is not much that she does to really elevate the character so that it has any real resonance, but it is not as bad as people made it out to be at the time.
But for as compelling as some of the performances in Part III were, one could sense there were conflicting intents that Coppola and Puzo seemed to have in the story that muddled the film in general. Coppola has talked about the lack of time he and Puzo had to work on a script and on the production in general, and I usually side with the artist in matters such as that. But in this final Godfather movie, it seemed as if Coppola wanted to go out with a flourish as well (instead of perhaps adjusting to the tighter deadline), which hampered the final product as a result. Sure, we get the story of Michael not only dealing with guilt but his desire for closure. But we also get forbidden romance, we get Vatican intrigue, we get assassination attempts. It is a Godfather movie that does not want to be a Godfather movie. It includes a good portion of the familiar faces, but the lack of others and replaced by subpar (within the mythology of the films) and strange in others (John Savage as Tom Hagen's son?) when they could have been ignored. It tried to live up to the past but did not focus on what was in front of them and it suffers as a result.
Within the vacuum of one film, The Godfather, Part III is a decent film, perhaps a touch better as we go along with age. But you simply cannot look at the final film exclusively without at least some minimal context that the other two bring, which is an insanely high standard and expectation level. That is not a bad thing, and I think Coppola tries to get there, but failing to trim some of the secondary characters that would ultimately prove to be irrelevant was one among several components that makes Part III a disappointing effort.
The film's 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is presented with the AVC codec and I think is the same transfer that was used in the restoration giftset that came out a few years back. Film grain is present during viewing, colors look nice and black levels are consistent through much of the feature. Image detail is noticeable during the film and all in all, Kim Aubry and the folks at ZAP did excellent work for this.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround option is quite good. Not only is dialogue well-balanced in the front of the soundstage, but low-end fidelity is executed nicely, whether it is a train whizzing by on a track or in the scenes in the opera house. Directional effects and channel panning was a little more ample than I remembered for the film but is effective during the listening experience, and the soundtrack does not disappoint.
Coppola's "original, provocative Director's Commentary" which appeared in the giftset is included here and if you have not heard it, it is very much worth listening to. He talks about what he wanted to do with the older characters and how Michael specifically is a semi-autobiographic character for him. He shares thoughts on folks not in the film and on Vatican history and possible ties to organized crime, politics and the like. He also defends the use of Sofia in the movie and talks about the pressure to make the film under a tight deadline on multiple occasions. It is not without some entertainment that is for sure.
The Godfather, Part III is an interesting release in that it is a decent movie, but when put against the mythology of the two films before it, it just feels so unnecessary, not only creatively but the standalone release compared to the previous two is a strange move. If you bought the first two standalone releases you are probably set, but for the outliers among us who enjoy the film more than most, now is a good time to get this, even if you miss the extras from the giftset, commentary aside.