The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
As finales go, film history has made it clear that the closing chapter of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster saga, with all the best intentions, is a flawed one. Slow, soaking in as much soap opera elements as it is burst blood squibs, and hindered by the hole left by Robert Duvall’s absence as Tom Hagan, The Godfather Part III is a chapter that feels more of a trial to sit through than many others. Coppola has spoken openly over the years about the fact that it was a push from the studio forces rather than his own creative urge to pursue the final endeavours of the Corleone’s second generation Don, and it showed.
Of course, like its central character, the filmmaking legend has never been out, pulling himself back in on the film’s 30th anniversary with the title that was always intended; The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which was originally disputed by Paramount. This isn’t Coppola’s first time tinkering with one of his beloved works, of course. Even though his original Vietnam odyssey is stamped as a modern masterpiece, he saw similar cracks in Apocalypse Now and gave attention that many deemed a worthy bit of extra TLC to the madness. The difference here though, is that Part III never earned such critical acclaim, and was thought of as a weak ‘out’ for Michael Corleone, never encompassing the story that the director and writer Mario Puzo wanted on screen in the first place.
This new cut starts with an introduction from the man himself, as Coppola explains that his original plans for Part III was to always be an epilogue, rather than an ending to the coveted story that he felt was shown with Part II. Be that as it may, the question is that has one of the directing greats perfected one of his least favoured entries? The honest answer is, you’ll probably barely notice if he did.
Speaking as someone who only recently checked off the original cut of Part III from their watchlist and lined Coda back to back (I’ll be handing my Film Twitter membership card in at the end of this review), the most notable adjustments are coincidentally the bookends of this bookend. Shorter than the original which stood at 162 minutes, this 158 minute cut reunites us with Michael during his talk with Archbishop Gilday, before the big celebration for his papal induction. The lengthy ceremony itself that opens the film into a rather sluggish start is left on the cutting room floor. Good choice? Certainly. For the uninitiated like myself, it allows us to get stuck straight into Michael’s doomed mission of redemption from a lifetime of sin, and his ongoing effort to rid himself of the guilt over familial heart-breaker, Fredo.
From here though, it’s very much the same tragic tale with the occasional tweak, allowing the pacing to pick up from a film that didn’t have much originally. There’s a few finer adjustments to the details (less of Eli Wallach scurrying out of the meeting before the mass hit stands out, and the occasional scene switcheroo), but excluding the closing moments featuring a borderline Al-Amatronic (which no matter how old an ending, this writer won’t reveal) there doesn’t feel much of note that makes this essential viewing for fans, or a required addition to the collection.
If anything it’s another chance to look back and reconsider that third part to this masterful puzzle that while not the strongest, still deserves some praise. Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary still sticks out like a sore thumb, but it’s easy to overlook thanks to Pacino’s turn as the worn down Don which still sells. Seasoned by the life he never wanted, and the lie of his aim to go legit he’s determined to ignore until his final days, his final appearance as Michael only kicks into what would become his trademark rage-level whenever Andy Garcia’s Vincent makes an outburst, who is understandably acting his socks off in front of one of the greats.
Part III also finally allows some actual time for Michael and Kay to reminisce, no matter how bitter and hurtful the journey may be, giving Diane Keaton some space to fill out a role that was so important but massively overlooked in the previous installments. During their trip to Sicily, it’s hard not to look at this relationship and feel a sudden urge to rewatch The Sopranos, to see another dynamite marriage and explosive similarities that came from it. For that, Coda reignites the respect and acclaim that was earned 30 years ago in the closing of The Godfather Trilogy. This is part of a story that still stands as one of the most influential entries to the genre, that its successors will always try to replicate, whichever way Coppola cuts it.
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