Gangster Film Series
Opens Fri Dec 15 at the Egyptian.

IT'S A SIGN of how much the gangster movie is a young man's game that the Egyptian's week-long series devoted to the genre omits Francis Coppola's Godfather III. His I and II are there of course, as majestically tragic as ever, but ever since it was released, the final installment of the trilogy has been generally dismissed as an embarrassing afterthought. While the first two films are so enthralled by the extent of Michael's ruthlessness that he attains an amoral grandeur, Godfather III is all autumnal regret and clumsy attempts at rehabilitation for past sins. The reunion with Kay is not the hard-nosed clash of Titans you'd expect, but a tensely amicable meeting in a sunny kitchen between two people who only know they should have saved one another, and couldn't. But isn't that just another way of saying that the earlier films are the work of a 35-year-old aspirant to the throne, while the third was made by a man almost 20 years older and wiser who'd had to face personal tragedies his younger self couldn't imagine?

Even with the enormous following of Godfather I and II, however, this rich and complex film failed to click. As Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels prove, if you want to make a splash in gangster films, it's all important you deliver the vicarious thrills; to keep the audience flattered, wrap things up with a tidy moral comeuppance, so we can imagine the fun of doing anything we want free from restraint and get to feel superior to those who choose the criminal path. A much fresher rejuvenation of ancient tropes than those two fun, jokey films is to be had in Steven Soderbergh's back-from-the-wilderness one-two punch Out of Sight and The Limey, a pair of sprightly, dazzling films riding undercurrents of despair, the latter throwing in a beautifully pained yet stoic performance by Terence Stamp. In fairness, though, Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown at least tried to sympathize with middle-aged burnout, and did fully understand how hard it is to change rudder midstream. There's hope yet he might learn to grow up as well.