One of the most underrated movies of all time, The Godfather Part III is the perfect conclusion to a perfect trilogy. It’s rare for me to use the sentimental in a positive context, but I must do so with this movie. The first two Godfather movies show what makes the Corleone family tick. Family is the center of that. The Godfather introduces us to the Corleone’s highly developed but horrendously perverted and violent concept of family loyalty that they are all so strictly devoted to. The Godfather Part II tells us what happens when this vision of family isn’t honored. The Godfather Part III shows us how the Corleone family rebuilds and redefines its concept of family after so much of that self-perception was destroyed through the actions Michael found necessary in Part II against the very family he was supposed to lead as its godfather.
Michael’s children are grown, and of course, Kay left him in Part II. The rebuilding of the Corleone concept of family all starts with an attempt to rebuild his relationships with his kid, and even reconcile to some degree with Kay. He has tried to go legitimate. His business includes no crime of his own doing or ordering, but the rest of the family and the family’s allies have to much control that doesn’t allow him to stay legitimate for long. But while legitimate, he has his daughter (played wonderfully by Sophia Coppola) fully convinced that he’s always been a humanitarian and not a gangster. But his son has bad memories and is harder to convince. Though he’s willing to have a relationship with his father, he’s not willing to work with him no matter how legitimate that work might be.
But because the Corleone family is a dynasty of murder and corruption, it’s impossible for attempt Michael makes to rebuild his family to not equate a rebuilding of that crime dynasty. So he laments “just when I thought I got out, they drag me back in.” The juxtaposition between these two restorations is perfect irony. Michael’s good motives for the health of his family are genuine and inspiring while all serving as a backdrop for the evil he’s still responsible for whether he wants to be or not.
When confronted by a priest who knows the Corleone past but not of Michael’s direct involvement in it, he asks Michael if he wants to confess. Michael’s response to the priest and his meditation on his own regrets that we get to see right after tie together the whole brilliant trilogy in a very beautiful way. As we see Michael’s regrets we see that is, maybe for the first time in his life, finally being real with himself about how evil he is, how much harm he has caused other people, and the hypocrisy between how he presents himself and his family as a revered member of various Catholic charities and who he knows himself to really be. He and his whole family are given a chance at redemption, and the way Michael responds to that chance is what makes The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III one perfect masterpiece.