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The Long and Short of It: ‘The Godfather Part III’

by on May 26, 2017
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Illustration by Jenn Marie Harmeson

In “The Long and Short of It” series, Sam Watermeier writes concise reviews of long epics he’s been putting off watching for years. These are the movies that came in bulky two-tape boxes back when VHS was all the rage. This bi-weekly series isn’t about watching Sam torture himself; it’s about watching him experience long-beloved films for the first time.

The film flickered
like the kicking feet inside her.
The baby boy,
galled by “The Godfather Part III,”
was ready to exit the theater …
and her womb.
The father wanted to stay
for the climactic scene.
But the light of the projector
was no match for his wife’s eyes.
They rushed to the hospital
where they met their bundle
of hair as black as young Michael Corleone’s.

I couldn’t wait until the end of the film to be born. Could I sit through it now as a grown man? This column series is about cutting through the cloud of mystique surrounding the epics I’ve put off watching. Part of me worried that watching “The Godfather Part III” would ruin my birth story. Would it live up to its bad reputation and people’s jokes about how I saved my mother from the film?

“The Godfather Part III” is definitely inferior to the indelible classics that precede it, but it’s far from a bad movie. It stands as a poignant bookend to a hefty cinematic saga.

In this chapter, we find Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in the same position as his father in the first film — at the end of his career and craving legitimacy. Haunted by his bloodstained history as a mafia boss, Michael tries to buy his way into heaven by giving back to the Roman Catholic Church. He offers the Vatican Bank $600 million in exchange for shares in a real estate company tied to it. Of course, his fellow Mafiosi want a piece of the cake. Tension mounts as Michael refuses their requests. To make matters worse, his nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia), stirs up drama with Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna), the kingpin behind the criminal side of the Corleone family business.

Soon the bullets start flying and Michael finds himself back where he started. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” he says in the film’s most famous line.

As crime crawls back into his life, we see corruption seeping through the cracks of the Catholic Church as well. Here, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola creates a claustrophobic sense of dread, making us feel like we’re suffocating as dark forces close in on Michael.

The final setpiece of the film arrives like a gift basket of “Godfather” goodies, with everything from an Italian opera to a poisoned cannoli. This climax brings Michael’s friends and enemies together and tears them all apart. Like the best gangster films ever made — the first two “Godfather” films — it’s tragic yet darkly thrilling.

In a poetic twist, my parents found their family growing as Michael’s was fading. My mother’s water broke in the middle of this bloody last act, and my life began. I’ve loved movies ever since I can remember.

“The Godfather Part III” is not without flaws. It sometimes feels as tired as Michael, and Sofia Coppola does indeed deliver a stiff, awkward performance as his daughter. In the end, however, the film left me gazing at the screen in wide-eyed wonder. It made existence more exciting for a few hours and imbued me with a belief in magic, which is probably how my parents felt that wintry night in 1991.

The best experiences — cinematic or otherwise — fill you with a sense of discovery that makes you feel like a part of you is complete, as if you found a puzzle piece you didn’t know was missing. I found the film that brought me into the world.



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