I first saw The Godfather Part 3 in the early 1990s. I had missed its theatrical run since I lived in a town without a theater, but since I was a huge fan of the first two movies, and even liked the "novel for television" edit when I was a kid, I rented it the moment it first showed up at the old VHS rental shop.
That was also the last time I saw The Godfather Part 3, until this week.
Now that's saying something for someone who has been a big fan of the Godfather saga since I was a little kid and my parents let me watch it on TV during a moment of questionable parental judgement. When the first two movies were running in a theater during my time in Toronto, I went and caught both shows. When it came to be Part 3's turn, I stayed home.
Because ever since I first saw it, I had this nagging sense of disappointment over the film.
Then I got a gift card last Xmas, and in January I took that card to my local retailer, and got two things, a box set of Community Season 1, that ironically, didn't contain any DVDs, and the Coppola Restoration of the Godfather Trilogy.
I watched the first two, and decided that I should grit my teeth, and watch Part 3, to see if my nagging sense of disappointment was right.
But this time I realized what caused my sense of disappointment.
|"The sin is that the movie is incomplete."|
The movie was unfinished on every level.
The screenplay just reeks of a first draft, with little or no polishing. Important plot points and characters are just glossed over, while trivialities are dwelt upon to an unseemly length.
The dialogue also seems strictly first draft, with dialogue put in it because at some point the writers (Puzo and Coppola) thought that they were the sort of things that should be in a Godfather movie without any of the sort of deep analysis needed to see if they really did belong in a Godfather movie.
Now it was popular at the time to put the blame on Sophia Coppola for her wooden performance as Mary Corleone. While her "Valley Girl" accent stuck out like a sore thumb, she is also a victim of the film's incomplete nature. She was a last minute replacement for Winona Ryder, who had collapsed from exhaustion on the first day of filming, and her lack of preparation shows. Now while the first two movies had so much story going on, there was room to edit around any shortcomings, the bare bones nature of Part 3, meant that there was no cover for Sophia, and her shortcomings as an actress. It was probably ego on Coppola's part that he thought she could do it with so little because he was the man who made the first two Godfathers, and who had the right to question his decisions.
Then there's the whole "incesty" romance between Mary Corleone and her cousin Vincent.... that needed a rewrite. Ewww....
Now let's look at how the film itself is constructed, and how that just reeks "first draft." Look at this clip of one of Part 3's major action scenes. If you haven't seen it, Michael Corleone's announcing his retirement to the Mafia's commission, and his refusal to share his largesse with small time thug Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna) has cause Zaza to storm out in a huff, followed by Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) who pleads with Joey to come back. The meeting goes on without them, and things take a turn...
Now this is supposed to be the film's centerpiece action moment, its equivalent to the assassination of Sonny at the tollbooth in Part 1, but it's a complete failure in my opinion.
Because like the script they have the core of a good idea, but no polish, no follow through. First, there's no research into what sort of weapon would create the effect they wanted. Inside the room's being torn apart as if by a heavy machine gun, but all we're shown is an Uzi sub-machine gun, which though a deadly weapon, doesn't strike the audience as capable of dropping 100+ bullets down range like that.
Then there's the movement within the scene. It is slow, both on camera, and in the editing. We're supposed to be shocked with the speed and horror, yet everything is ponderous and lingering.
What's with that guy and his lucky coat? Okay, it's his lucky coat, and he doesn't want to leave without it, so why is he just lingering there hugging it? It can't be stuck on the hook for the love of all that's cinematic, that would be stupid. So is standing there hugging a coat while bullets fly all around you until you're killed.
The first two Godfather movies featured violence / action scenes that matched in style the nature of the act of violence being performed. Sudden ambushes come out of nowhere, targeted assassinations carefully stalk their prey, then strike with brutal efficiency, anarchic shootouts are pure chaos, but you still know what's going on.
The helicopter attack scene in Part 3 matches not the nature of the attack, but the nature of the film itself. Overwrought, under-thought, sloppily constructed, and ultimately disappointing.
To sum it up, a first draft.