Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Godfather Part III

(If you don't care at all about nitpicking through the Godfather Part 3, feel free to skip this one)

I don't want to devote excessive time to "movies I don't like", because there would just be too many of them. Remember my axiom: Most Movies Suck. So why nitpick over Godfather 3? Or Star Wars for that matter? Well, it's because certain movies should have been fantastic. Nobody particularly had any expectations for say, Catwoman; so it's not really big news if Catwoman ends up sucking.

And a movie like Godfather 3, which should have been superb but was instead a huge let down, doesn't entirely suck. When compared against the average gangster movie, it holds up fine. When compared against Hollywood product in general, it's very good. But when compared against the Godfather Parts 1 and 2, (my two favorites movies) it's a godawful mess.

The first charge I accuse Godfather 3 of, is that it's simply an unnecessary movie. GF2 concluded with such enormous finality, it did such a skillful job of wrapping up the whole story, that any Part 3 is going to end up feeling tacked on, like an appendix. These movies are about the story of the Corleone family, and specifically Michael's story, and that story was, well, finished. In his feverish and paranoid desire to protect his family from harm, he became the instrument of its destruction. He loved his family so much, he destroyed it. The end.

Godfather 3's uber-story, the overall theme, is Michael trying to find redemption. The surface story is about Michael trying to legitimize the family business and find a successor. The surface story is perfectly adequate for a Godfather movie, the underlying story is not.

Many people have remarked that the Godfather movies are a family drama first, mobster moveis second. I think that characterization is correct. For Godfather 3 even to exist, it must continue to evolve and develop the characters and relationships of the Corleone Family. Because so many of those characters are dead, this becomes an enormous challenge. Coppola's weak solution is to try to find deep emotional resonance among the characters who used to be peripheral but are now thrust into center stage by virtue of having not been killed off. Thus we have expanded roles for fundamentally uninteresting characters like Connie and Al Neri.

In GF1, Michael lost his brother Sonny. In GF2, he lost his brother Fredo. For Godfather 3 to work, and for the redemption story to be possible, GF3 must, MUST, MUST be about Michael's relationship with Tom Hagan. There is no alternative to that choice. Tom is the last brother. Tom gave Michael unconditional love and support, though at the end of GF2 Michael viciously abused him. The path to Michael's redemption, if it exists, leads through Tom, the final brother.

Robert Duvall apparantly turned down his role in GF3 on the basis of a weak script. I applaud Duvall. But of course, they made the movie anyway, rationing off Duvall's role in the story to other characters like Connie and the quickly-invented lawyer character B.J. Harrison. Duvall's refusal to be in a weak GF sequel should have slammed the brakes on the project. To go ahead without him was the death knell of the whole enterprise.

So we have problem #1: the fact that the movie is unneccesary, and #2: the inexcusable absence of Tom Hagan. Problem #3 is what they did to the character of Connie. In all of the reviews and commentary I've heard about GF3, I haven't heard a single person make an observation about the remarkable and ridiculous metamorphasis Connie makes from gentle, naive soul to bloodthirstly ruthless shrew who is inexplicably a member of Michael's murderous inner circle.

Did anyone else notice this?

Connie actually murders a man in GF3 in case anyone forgot. She feeds him a poisoned canole at the opera. First of all, since when were women admitted to the inner circle of the family business? (It's not that I'm personally opposed to that, only that it is 100% incongruous with the established rules of the family) In GF1, Connie was a naive, abused wife. In GF2, she was a jaded, spoiled rich girl. When we see her last, she's tearfully begging Michael to forgive Fredo. Suddenly in GF3 she's a cunning, violent Lady Macbeth. (yet she still doesn't know that her brother Fredo was murdered. Huh?)

Another problem that plagues GF3 is this desire to recycle every idea possible from the two previous movies. To be fair, GFs 1 and 2 are good choices if you're going to be reverent about a movie, but the constant allusions in Part 3 to past adventures, and all the recycling of ideas, well, cheapens Part 3. The flashbacks, the 'hey, remember when's, the complete recycling of the musical score.... Consider the famous baptism scene from the first Godfather. A jarring juxtaposition of religious humility and an orgy of violence. At the center of it: Michael the hypocrite. A brilliant scene. Now consider the very similar opera sequence that is the climax of GF3. What were they going for there besides an obvious recycling of the baptism scene? A montage of murders set to beautiful music. Check. Frequent cuts to Michael looking pensive. Check. Okay, so on a surface level, they're pretty similar. But in GF1 there was much deeper resonance emotionally. This was Michael's completion of his coming-of-age. This was the first time he fully embraced evil. Plus the scene was unique cinematically, directorially. A true original. What is the opera sequence from GF3 besides a lame attempt to conjur the power of the baptism scene without doing any of the corresponding heavy lifting in the story, emotional, or character development department?

Can you see why I don't like this movie?

And I'll leave it there I think. Notice I didn't even mention Andy Garcia, Joe Mantegna, and the famously bad performance by Sophia Coppola. I'm not even getting into the incest subplot, the squandering of the Kay character, the non-use of Michael's son, etc. These are all secondary issues.

Take my advice: pretend the Godfather series ends with Part 2.

No comments: