The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather: Part III (1990). Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, and Sofia Coppola. 162 mins. Rated R.
So at last, after decades of dire criminality, including the murder of his inept, needy brother Fredo (John Cazale), Michael Corleone (the remarkable Al Pacino) finally reckons with himself. Finally. He has earlier confessed, though mostly against his own desire, to the gentle but persuasive urgings of Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone), but in those moments of sobs and remorse Michael has yet to turn his soul toward actual redemption, even though Lamberto has told him that he will finally be redeemed. Michael himself reckons with that promise as he sits grief stricken in solitary vigil at the casket of his assassinated Sicilian mentor, Don Tommascino, a kindly and beloved man who in The Godfather (1974) sheltered young Michael after his first murders.
Himself in poor health from serious diabetes, Michael contemplates his own life and that of his mentor, a contrast that speaks loudly and inescapably. As Cardinal Lamberto has told him (see The Godfather entry in Confession), his own physical decay results from deep inner torment over his wrong turns as godfather and as husband and father. One token of that is his effort to reconcile with ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton), from whom the powerful Michael withheld access to their children.
So now, frail and remorseful, he tells her that he dreams at night about how he “lost my family.” Michael has not been prone, to say the least, to admit any kind of mistake, let alone of this magnitude, but here, at this late date, he begs forgiveness of his ex for all of his many wrongs, even though some had behind them the best of intentions.
This self-reckoning accelerates after the murder of an old and dearfriend. There by Don Tomassino’s casket, Michael wonders aloud to his dead friend why “you were so loved…[and] why was I so feared…What betrayed me, my mind or my heart? Why do I condemn myself so”? And well he should, given the past he’s confessed to Lamberto and to his amply aggrieved ex-wife.
All of this, as made clear by Pacino’s superlative acting, Michael excavates and ekes out of his own deepest being. And finally, the weight of his crimes criminal and otherwise, he turns, actually turns, shedding the weight of his past for his hope for new life, and a stunning petition it is, eyes and soul turned upward: “I swear on the lives of my children, give me a chance to redeem myself and I will sin no more.” There is hardly a more moving petition in all of cinema.
And then, well, again with his back against a wall, Michael concedes to return to his old methods just one more time; only once, he reasons. And for that turn once again to murder, albeit of an enemy, he pays a completely immeasurable price, and then all that is left for Michael is to die in the dust of Sicily, the birthplace of Cosa Nostra.