Time and pressure, though. It's not mere coincidence that at one point in The Godfather, Part III Michael Corleone says of his mobster ties: "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in." Coppola was tempted by Paramount Pictures to come back for one more go for the same reasons he took on the first film—he was in financial trouble and needed the money. Al Pacino's star was again on the ascendant (after expensive flops like Cruising and Revolution) and Coppola was the one man who could pull the original talent together and make a "legitimate" "Godfather" sequel, with no compromises.* The story takes place with Michael Corleone, now 60, with all the appearances of economic legitimacy although still with long ties to his family's Mafia roots. The old Corleone business is in the hands of Joe Zaza (Joe Mantegna—a rare chance to see Mantegna being "florid"). Now the aging Don, debilitated with diabetes, in the twilight of his life, must come to terms with what he lost in his battle to protect his Family: his family.
How many movies are about that?
As a recovering Catholic, I may be a bit more sensitive to it, knowing the arcana of the Church, but I found myself watching Godfather III ticking off the moments that Michael might be in a state of Grace to go to Heaven. For the length of the "Godfather" series, Coppola distilled Mario Puzo's original best-selling novel to core themes: the immigrant's American experience and the role crime plays in it; how business is brokered so similarly between criminal organizations and Big Business; how a steadfast paternalism can descend into destruction; how good intentions can be corrupted.
Vito (Marlon Brando) and the accompanying original End-Titles which featured Kay Corleone (Diane Keaton) lighting them for his son Michael's.**Pragmatism might have been the reason, but the characters had moved on from the original movie and Puzo's book. The scene of Kay lighting candles for her husband added an element to her character of still loving the new Don even while knowing he was a monster, complicit in his crimes. And it was particularly weird when Coppola put it at the end of the more complete television presentation of "The Godfather Saga" after all the heinous crimes committed by Michael in Part II (including the one he finds the most unforgivable—the ultimate negation of his mission to save his family—as he says in "Part III" "I killed my mother's son. I killed my father's son."). Michael Corleone is forgiven his sins by the cardinal (Raf Vallone) who will become Pope John Paul I (they needed a VERY holy man to forgive Michael), suddenly...in the eyes of God—or at least the Church—Michael's soul is clean. The marionette strings of the Corleone Family have been handed to his bastard nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) who has the quicksilver temper of his father Sonny (James Caan), but is taught a Don's pragmatism under Michael's tutelage.
Sofia Coppola in the role of Michael's beloved daughter Mary (Winona Ryder was originally cast, but bowed out pleading exhaustion). It must have seemed natural for Coppola to do so, having cast sister Talia Shire as Michael's sister Connie (Shire has a much bigger role to play in Part III), and Sofia has always been a part of the "Godfather" films.*** The critics were cruelly savage in their denunciation of her performance, and, admittedly, it is a little weak. But, critics seemed to blame the daughter for any weaknesses in the father's work. When they come... they come at what you love." Sofia Coppola has more than had her own revenge by becoming a gifted director and Oscar-winning screenwriter, she has also won the critic's respect.
Her triumph, and the grace with which she achieved it, is the true ending of "The Godfather" story.
**That scene is used as the End Credits for "The Godfather Saga"—Coppola's "too much information" re-shuffling of the first two films into a strict chronology. There are lots of little interesting tidbits in that one, including the hospital visit with Don Vito's old consigliere Genco ("You blashpheme. Resign yourself."), more scenes with the undertaker from the first film, and the Corleone family paying a visit to...the Coppola family.*** Mantegna remembers during a scene prep, of Coppola pointing to Sofia and telling him that she was the baby being christened at the end of the first film.
**** In the book, "Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather" (by Mark Seal), Coppola revealed that the inspiration for this conspiracy came from Paramount studio head Charlie Bluhdorn who, during the making of the first Godfather, confessed to the young director that he leveraged part of Paramount land interests to the Immobiliare organization to resolve studio debts. Coppola was privately shocked but...filed the information for later use.