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30 Years Later: The Godfather Part III

28 December 20 words: Thomas Griffiths

Thomas Griffiths reviews the divisive third instalment of the Godfather trilogy in light of its thirtieth anniversary and brand new re-edit...

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire
Running time: 162 minutes

Over the thirty years since its release, the divisive third Godfather picture has become known mostly for its mixed plot lines and Sophia Coppola’s Mary Corleone. Underneath this however, the film has many moments that can be up there with the best in the trilogy. The film contains long threads of symbolism that trace back to the first Godfather, becoming the films redeeming quality, allowing connections to the previous instalments and earning the films the right to be a trilogy. I believe the thirtieth anniversary and the upcoming re-edited release of the film is a good time to see what the film got right. 

When Paramount asked Francis Ford Coppola to revisit his Godfather films in the late eighties, he and Godfather author Mario Puzo set to work writing the final part of the Corleone Saga. Coppola always intended the third Godfather to be an epilogue to the first two films, now re-edited into The Godfather Coda, it is easy to understand why this approach suits the picture much better and allows its best qualities to become clearer. 

In each film the power gained by the Corleone family increases, the epilogue is no different. Their powers now reaching as high as the Vatican, the families original wish to become fully legitimate is now realised, so long as all goes smoothly. In their maturity, and new found power in peace time, we are able to see new sides to familiar characters.

Puzo’s characters now bear many similarities to Shakespeare’s in this final chapter; Michael’s fate is much like King Lear’s, wanting to give up his kingdom but unable to decide on an heir. After disagreements, the leader of the Corleone family loses his daughter and then loses himself. His sister, Constanzia Corleone, now dressed in elaborate and macabre costume, matches the story of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, encouraging further attacks in an attempt to strengthen the family’s power. Much like the families of Lear and Macbeth, the Corleone family ends in tragedy and their reign, we can presume after the ending of Part III, falls to another dynasty thus wrapping up the Corleone saga.

In this epilogue to the saga, we see Michael no longer searching for power but for redemption. Ultimately, this redemption is paid for by sacrifice in what could be the most heartbreaking moment of the three films.

The third instalment can be respected for what it set out to achieve and the film it nearly was

Al Pacino and Diane Keaton again provide moments of understanding and compassion through their characters, while Talia Shire is able to fully realise Connie Corleone as a powerful force. Not only do characters return but so too the crew - Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola continue to elevate scenes through their scores and tarantella, Gordon Willis returns as director of photography giving shots his famous inky black contrast while Dean Tavoularis continues as production designer. 

In each film we see tradition and ritual used as a storytelling device, in the first film the baptism is inter cut to the murder of the five families, in Part II Vito assassinates Don Fanucci under the cover of the festival then returns to his young family. Part III is no different, using the Mascagni opera Cavalleria Rusticana to great effect as not only the backdrop to final moments of the film but also a representation of the story as a whole, the once powerful Corleone family now just another Sicilian tragedy.

Although Coppola was unable to match the first two parts, the film also becoming a victim of overly high expectations when originally released, the third instalment can be respected for what it set out to achieve and the film it nearly was.

Coppola once stated “the Godfather films were my home movies, my sister, daughter and mother were in them, my father played the music. These are films about a family made by a family.” This continues to be true even in the final instalment. With The Godfather Part III now recut, Coppola may finally have achieved the conclusion he and Puzo wanted to make.

The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is available now on Blu-ray

Did you know? Coppola revealed that there were plans for a fourth film, but Mario Puzo died before it could be written. The film would have included Robert De Niro reprising his role as Vito Corleone in the 1930s, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as a young Sonny Corleone.

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