The GODFATHER saga has captivated and intrigued audiences beyond what most fiction can achieve. Mythological, yes, but also some unexplainable connection and familiarity. When you've spent the many hours it would require to become acquainted with the Corleone family and their world, you unavoidably feel a part of it. The enterprise seems like more than mere diversion. The urgency of Mario Puzo's characters is so palpable you're damn near invested. Even those among us who find it foolish to get so wrapped up in make believe stories will drop the stone visage and excitedly recount lines of dialogue and argue over plot details such as who ordered a barroom garroting.
I'm mainly speaking of THE GODFATHER (1972) and its 1974 sequel, considered by some to be even better than the original. When director Francis Ford Coppola came back with THE GODFATHER PART III in 1990, many enthusiasts left theaters in disappointment. I saw the film at its opening on Christmas night. I had spent the night before alone, re-watching GODFATHER PART II. A lonely experience, but perhaps appropriate for the timbre of the film, ending with Michael Corleone's (Al Pacino) tortured decision to have his brother Fredo murdered.
Part three picks up many years later in 1979. Michael has all but retired as the family don, left with a litany of guilt and bad memories. He mourns the divorce of his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) and the estrangement of his children Mary (Sofia Coppola) and Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio), who comes to papa seeking his approval of his quitting law school to become an opera singer. The film opens with a ceremony at St. Patcrick's Cathedral as Michael is honored as a Commander of the Order of the Church. The reception afterward introduces some and re-introduces others as the main players are established.
Most significant is Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia, convincing as an Hispanic playing an Italian), a product of an illicit union between Michael's deceased bother Sonny and a bridesmaid (during a wedding in the original film). Vincent is a quick tempered loose cannon, just like his father. He seethes toward Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), a shifty hood who has been in charge of Corleone family business, which has degenerated into slum lording and drug sales. Michael is concerned but recognizes his illegitamite nephew's fierce devotion to the family, possibly seeing him as a successor.
Meanwhile, there are dealings with an Italian real estate company, whose largest shareholder is the Vatican. Michael offers to buy the shares from the Vatican Bank in order to assist with their considerable debts, a deal that must receive the blessing of the Pope to proceed. This intrigue is based on true events, and gets rather complicated. Some viewers were confused, and even Coppola states that the murk resulted from hasty rewrites and a rushed schedule. Nonetheless, it is quite fascinating.
When I re-watched GODFATHER III recently, I was still engrossed, even during some of the denser moments. There are many relationships to sort out, history to consider (don't watch this movie unless you've seen the other two, please). The business intrigue is sometimes inpenatrable, and there are multiple scenes of deal making, but it all remains so irresistible, so much a part of the GODFATHER universe. Sustained the many flaws, not the least of which is Sofia's last resort casting. I won't add to all the negativity about her performance, which is politely termed amatuerish, but what could've been another vital element to this story is tainted by the young lady's deer in the headlights work. Thank God she found her own penance behind the camera later on.