Godfather Part III, The (1990): Third Panel in Coppola’s Epic Crime Saga, Starring Pacino

This is the third (and final) installment of the “Godfather” saga, one of the few series, in which each of the three chapters has received a Best Picture nomination.  Though it’s the weakest panel of the trilogy, it has some artistic merits.

Decades later, it seems that Part III might have been too harshly treated by critics.

Main problem is that  the story of the younger generation of the crime dynasty is not as interesting as that of the older one in “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part Two,” not to mention the mediocre acting of Andy Garcia (who is not a leading man) and the poor performance by Coppola’s own daughter, Sofia Coppola, who was a last moment replacement for Winona Ryder.


Masterfully told, the film completes the story of Michael Corleone, showing his efforts to legitimize his criminal empire.  The tale includes fictionalized accounts of two real-life events, which are not particularly involving: the 1978 death of Pope John Paul I and the Papal banking scandal of early 1980s, both linked to Corleone’s business affairs.

An older Michael feels guilty over his ruthless rise to power, especially ordering his brother Fredo’s assassination, and he donates money to charitable causes. Michael and Kay are divorced, and their children, Anthony and Mary, live with Kay.

At the reception after a papal induction ceremony in Michael’s honor, Anthony tells his father that he wants to become an opera singer. Kay supports him, but Michael wants Anthony to complete his law degree or join the “family business.” Kay reveals that she and Anthony know about Fredo’s death.

Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son, Vincent Mancini, is embroiled in a feud with Joey Zasa. When Connie arranges for Vincent to meet Zasa, who calls Vincent a bastard, Vincent bites Zasa’s ear.  Impressed by his loyalty, Michael includes him in the family business.

Archbishop Gilday, head of the Vatican Bank, has a deficit, and Michael offers $600 million in exchange for shares in Internazionale Immobiliare, an international real estate company, which would make him its largest single shareholder. He makes an offer to buy the Vatican’s hare in the company, which will give him controlling interest. Immobiliare’s board approves the offer, to be ratified by the Pope. 

Don Altobello, Mafia boss and Connie’s godfather, tells Michael that his partners on The Commission want in on the Immobiliare deal. Michael wants the deal untainted and pays off the mob bosses from the sale of his Las Vegas holdings. When Zasa receives nothing, he declares Michael his enemy,

A helicopter outside the conference room opens fire, and most of the bosses are killed; Michael and Vincent escape.  Vincent and Mary begin dating, while Neri and Connie permit Vincent permission to retaliate against Zasa. During a street festival hosted by Zasa’s Italian American civil rights group, Vincent kills Zasa. Michael berates Vincent for his actions and insists that Vincent end his relationship with Mary, explaining Vincent’s involvement in the family’s criminal enterprises endangers her life.

The family goes to Sicily for Anthony’s operatic debut in Palermo at Teatro Massimo. Michael asks Vincent to spy on Altobello. Altobello introduces Vincent to Don Licio Lucchesi, a powerful Italian political figure and Immobiliare’s chairman. Michael discovers that the Immobiliare deal is an elaborate swindle, arranged by Lucchesi, Gilday, and Vatican accountant Frederick Keinszig.

Michael visits Cardinal Lamberto, the next Pope, to discuss the deal. Lamberto persuades Michael to make his first confession in 30 years, and he confesses about Fredo’s murder; Lamberto says Michael deserves to suffer but can be redeemed.

Altobello hires Mosca, a vet hitman, to assassinate Michael. Mosca and his son, disguised as priests, kill Don Tommasino. Michael asks for Kay’s forgiveness; clearly still love each other. At Tommasino’s funeral, he vows never to sin again. Michael then names his nephew the new Don of the Corleone family.

Coppola is a terrific director when it comes to mise-en-scene, and as sharply uneven as this picture is, there are at lest half a dozen impressive sequence that justify its making and viewing by us.   It could be that Coppola had waited for too long, 18 years, between the second and third chapters of this epic saga.

Oscar Nominations:  7

Picture, produced by Francis Ford Coppola

Director: Coppola

Supporting Actor: Andy Garcia

Cinematography: Gordon Willis

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Dean Tavoularis, Gary Fettis

Film Editing: Barry Malkin, Lisa Fruchtman, Walter Murch

Song: “Promise Me You’ll Remember,” music by Carmine Coppola, lyrics by John Bettis

Oscar Awards:



Oscar Context:

In 1990, Coppola’s Mafia movie competed with Scorsese’s crime-gangster “GoodFellas,” which received 6 nominations; two melodramas, “Awakening,” with 3 nods, and “Ghost,” with 5.  The big winner was Kevin Costner’s epic Western, Dances With Wolves, which was honored with the largest number of nominations (12) and Oscars (7), including Best Picture and Best Director.

“Godfather, Part III” and “Awakenings” emerged as the big losers, since each film failed to receive a single award.



Coppola Company Productions