Originally Posted by Cinescott
I tend to agree with the opinions that the Michael Corleone character seems very different in Part III than the first two.
I agree that he is totally different - even the physical parts of the performance are very different. But I've always been able to attribute that to the passage of time, the twenty years or whatever it's supposed to be between the Part II and Part III. I didn't see Part III until many years after I first saw the original two, but I have to admit that in the time before I saw Part II, I wondered what the consequences of Michael's actions would have - that final shot of him in Part II sitting alone on the bench, after reflecting on that memory of the family all together, himself as an idealistic young man - to me that's a very stark, lonely image. Though it doesn't exactly convey "what have I done?" as a viewer I find it an easy leap to imagine that as he lived those remaining years, the weight of what he had done might have truly sunk in. You can try to outrun your past as much as you want, but eventually, all things catch up with you.
At the end of Part I, when Michael has Carlo killed (his brother-in-law) and Tessio (one of his father's oldest friends/contemporaries), both of those choices seem justifiable based on the "rules" of the lifestyle they chose to live. Carlo was always a bastard to Connie and his part in Sonny's death really is an unforgivable sin. And Tessio did conspire to bring about Michael's end, and failed, and death is the price of being caught. But Fredo's sins... the way I read Part II was not that he intentionally tried to have Michael killed, but that his displeasure and jealousy at the way he was passed over and treated like the errand boy led to him revealing some information that he shouldn't have which led to the attempt on his life - as opposed to Fredo actually saying "I want my brother dead." (If I'm incorrect about that point, please let me know.) But even if Fredo's transgression was more intentional than I remember it being, your brother is still your brother. Even in the context of The Godfather and all of the violence the characters are responsible for, the murder of one's own brother still strikes me as a truly unforgivable sin. (I would argue that that kind of an act would fundamentally change a person in ways they couldn't imagine or have anticipated when they decided to do it.) My favorite scene in Part III is probably Michael's confession.
Nonetheless, I do agree that Michael's portrayal in Part III is very different from the earlier films, and as much as I've been able to make a case for why it works for me - it wasn't something that went over so well the first time I saw the movie, and I think it's very understandable to not be onboard with Coppola's decisions in that regard. On the other hand... now that I've had plenty of time to reflect on Part III, I can't imagine what the film would be like had Michael stayed the same. I think that might have struck me the way that it might when you see an old action star who's clearly outgrown the role still trying to muscle his way through scenes as if he was still 25 - just not believable and more of an intentional parody than a believable thing. Part III is by no means a perfect film, where I'd say that Part I most definitely is (I like Part II but not as much as Part I), but I respect that Coppola tried to make the film the way he saw it... that he made it as a sort of epilogue as opposed to an equal part of the story as the first two.