Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One, Two, and Three: Coppola's Godfather

Watching The Sopranos you might notice that some of the Soprano crew refer to life and work in relation to various mobster movies, specifically Godfather I, II, and III and Goodfellas. (This is funny for a few reasons including the fact that the actors who play Uncle Junior, Doctor Melfi, Christopher, Paulie “Walnuts”, Big Pussy, and quite a few others turn up in those films.)

When they refer to the Godfather films they sometimes refer to them as One, Two, or Three. Apparently they talk about them often enough that the number of the series is enough to clue in the rest of the guys.

Recently, I watched Goodfellas with my father-in-law… who had never seen it before. I mentioned A Bronx Tale to my father-in-law, too. Earlier this year I watched Casino (for the second time). A little earlier I watched some scenes from Two. Now, someone quotes One to me in a comm-box at Anti-Strib. What’s more he misquoted the line.

Now what? Now I’m thinking of The Godfather.

Folks often say that Three was terrible. However, that’s really not the case. The film itself is quite good, especially as an epilogue to One and Two. A good friend of mine often says the excesses of Three (namely the helicopter attack) make the film look ridiculous, while many folks criticize Sophia Coppola’s performance. Those points are not to be taken lightly. However, the folks at Paramount wanted more guns, more gangsters, more crime, more of the revenge and trouble that we all ate up in One and Two. Coppola didn’t want to re-do stuff that was already great… to compete with a classic (not to mention two classics) on those terms is a recipe for failure. However, to compete with a classic (or two) in a different manner gives you a chance.

Coppola wanted to call the movie The Death of Michael Corleone, not The Godfather, Part III. He wanted to show the full tragedy that was Michael’s life. I suppose the helicopter attack scene was to appease Paramount… bigger than anything in any of the great scenes in the previous films. Evocative of both Sonny’s death and of the attack on Michael’s family at his home in Nevada. Effing huge! For better or worse. I think some of that scene doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, however it certainly fits the grand style that all of Three has from beginning to end. The film was effing huge, however, it didn’t need to be. Coppola probably gave in to Paramount in that respect. It makes the film less than it should be.

Now, the Godfather series consistently refers to religious ceremonies to show the conflicting parts of Michael’s life, and his father’s life. A wedding, baptism, first communion… and they all help focus the film. In Three we have Michael’s knighting at the Church (and the family reunion which follows) and Michael’s confession. (To a certain extent the opera at the end is a ceremony, too.) The confession is one of the greatest scenes in the series. Simply shot, it calls back to Two, the dialogue speaks for itself, the performances work very well, and it marks a turning point for Michael. From here on he knows he can not change. He is the man he made himself to be… he delayed redemption so long it lays beyond his reach.

He becomes doubly-damned at the end… everything he did for his family (extended and immediate) leaves him empty. He killed his sister’s husband (who deserved it), he killed his brother, he lost his wife, she aborted their third child because of his life, his sister became more like him, and his daughter was murdered… all because of him.

Damn, this isn’t enough. I’m going to need to revisit this subject.


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