- Movie Rating -

The Godfather Coda: “The Death of Michael Corleone”

| December 11, 2020

I hold no shame in my fierce adoration for The Godfather, a movie that I routinely (and proudly) admit is my all-time favorite movie.  It is a masterwork that I hold dear to my heart, a cinematic treasure that moves with the ebb and flow of a tragic Italian Opera.  Recently, I have even begun to appreciate the greatness of The Godfather Part II in understanding how the two films complement one another – the first film is about Michael’s rise to power and the second is about his downfall.  It’s a complete circle.  Done.  Finished.  No need for Part III.

The finality of the first two films helps me understand why Francis Ford Coppola was so reluctant to make The Godfather Part III.  It is unnecessary, and when you watch the film, you can see that this was a film that the director did not want to make.  It repeats great overarching themes that were already covered in Part II and wields a wobbly narrative that is often hard to follow.  Plus, it is burdened with great gobs of supporting players that are unfocused and unnecessary.

Given those issues, I sat down with Coppola’s new re-edit – now tagged with his original title The Godfather Coda: “The Death of Michael Corleone” – with the hope that it would offer a new experience, or at least the one that he promises in his brief introduction on the Blu-Ray.  Does it?  Well, sort of.  To be honest, I don’t see much that is different besides the opening and the conclusion.  I actually had to go back to my old DVD of Part III to really note any significant change in the middle.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, the opening.  Yes, it’s a massive improvement.  Part III opened with the ruins of the Corleone’s Nevada estate while Michael writes a letter to his children.  Then we cut to Michael being inducted into the papal order with an after party in which we reunite with old characters and are introduced to new ones.  THEN we get down to the business of Michael’s deal to pay off the Vatican bank’s deficit in exchange for the majority holding in an international real estate company.

In Coda, these scenes are rearranged so that they make more narrative sense.  Now, the movie opens with the Vatican deal, followed by the invitation letter to the children to come to the induction ceremony, and then the after party.  In this way, it plays more like the induction was part of the Vatican deal and that Michael is being led into the church’s inner circle because he bought his way in.  It gives the movie a smoother beginning, making it look as though Michael is buying his way into the church in exchange for his absolution.

It also helps the movie get down to business with much more efficiency.  The Vatican deal originally took place about half an hour into the movie, but now placed at the beginning the opening mirrors the opening of the first film with the Bonasera scene.  The editing helps get things moving, and also gets Sonny’s illegitimate son Vincent (Andy Garcia) into the story much earlier.

The other significant change comes at the very end.  Part III faded out of Mary Corleone’s assassination to a montage of Michael’s happiest moments dancing with Apollonia and then Kay and then Mary.  Then came the finale with that weird scene of elderly Michael dying in the courtyard, falling out of his chair and Coppola mercifully fading out mere seconds before the dog pees on Michael’s hat.

The Coda ends on a note that I’m not sure that I really understand.  In spite of the new title, the movie does not end with Michael’s death, but instead fades out just before and gives us an onscreen text that I am sure someone in the online community can explain better than I can.  I await their wisdom.

What changes were made in between are not of such significance that they can be listed here.  Many are simply tweaks and cuts to the ends of scenes to make them move with more efficiency and, yes, they do help.  In large part, the movie does seem to move a little better.  The newly edited opening relocates how the movie flows and so we have a movie the truly does feel like an epilogue.  The ending?  Well, I’ll get back to you on that.

And yet, while I think the movie does have an improvement in its narrative, I still think that its biggest problems remain.  While I think that Al Pacino and Diane Keaton and Andy Garcia give good performances, the rest of the cast is a jumble of unfocused (and in some cases unpleasant) characters that are often hard to differentiate.  And no, none of Sophia Coppola’s scenes have been cut.  She remains intact and her flat, banal performance hasn’t improved with age.  She’s supposed to be the film’s emotional center, but her story arch and her tragic death leave me cold.  When she leaves the screen, I’m not thinking about her.

I am also cold on the film’s third act, an over-long and rather confusing assassination attempt on Michael in which so many plotters skulk around in the darkened caverns of the opera house that we can’t tell one character from another.  There are creative decisions made in this scene that range from potentially interesting to just plain stupid (a poisoned cannoli?  Really?!).

The opera is intercut with some business involving the Vatican Bank attempting to swindle the Corleone family.  I don’t know.  I rewound the scene twice and tried to follow it with full attention but damned if I could follow any of it.  There are so many murders and plotting going that I wondered if the girl in the box office wasn’t going to whack somebody.

That said, the virtues are still here, particularly Pacino’s underappreciated performance.  Many critics at the time were more interested in criticizing his hair than focusing on his work in the film, but in doing so they overlooked a beautifully nuanced performance.  Michael is a man burdened by his legacy, a man whose attempts to go legitimate only ensnare him in the mafia web.  Plus, there is the unfinished business of his own damnation for ordering the death of his own brother.  He has a confession scene late in the film that is some of the best work that Pacino has ever done.

Also, a tip of the hat to Diane Keaton whose lifetime of dealing with a mobster husband comes down to a divided union (they’re divorced) that is only bound by their two children.  She has a scene early in the film in which she calls him on the carpet for his murderous legacy that is simply brilliant.

Pacino and Keaton are really the focal point here, and I wish the movie had been more about them and less about the myriad of unnecessary subplots.  There’s really no edit that Coppola could have done to improve on the film’s overarching problems, but I think the editing and the new title do give the film a different tone.  This is a story about a man fearing the damnation of Hell and of his father’s legacy.  Slimmed down, with scenes rearranged the film does have a new energy, but it is also burdened by the same problems.  To be honest, Coppola could have easily changed the opening and the title and this new editing might have been much more functional.  In altering the title and removing Part III, I now feel that I’m watching an after-show, a wrap up to two films that were already a closed circle.  The Godfather Coda: “The Death of Michael Corleone” can never be made perfect, but I enjoyed this new edit while admitting that it still has the same troubling bulkiness.  It is as good a job as he could have done, and I’m okay with that. 

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized