Skip to content

Blu-ray Review: Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone

December 8, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III has always had somewhat of a reputation as the black sheep of the trilogy. Released on Christmas Day in 1990, nearly two decades after the first film in 1972 and sixteen years after the second one in 1974, the film has never received the same level of acclaim as its two predecessors.

Now, exactly thirty years later, Coppola has been granted permission from Paramount to revisit the film with a new frame-by-frame restoration and director’s cut, which is arriving on Blu-ray this week.

Named Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, this new edit restores director Coppola and screenwriter Puzo’s original vision for the film, which was to have it serve as more of an epilogue to the saga of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his rise to power within the Italian-American crime family. Changes include a new beginning and ending, as well as some rearranging and trimming of scenes in the middle, resulting in a shorter running time (it’s been cut from 170 minutes to a leaner 157 minutes).

The changes are apparent right from the start, with the film now opening in the middle of Michael’s meeting with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly), the head of the Vatican Bank. This scene, in which Michael offers to pay off the Vatican Bank’s debt in exchange for the Corleone family being given the controlling shares in Internazionale Immobiliare, initially came about forty minutes into the film.

It’s an interesting narrative choice to move it to the beginning, bringing this storyline more directly to the forefront, and allowing us to jump right into the plot. We then cut right to the large reception for Michael that initially came before it, (a sequence that recalls the first two, which both opened with big family gatherings), celebrating the fact that he has been awarded a papal honour as an official thank you from the Catholic Church for his charity works. The church ceremony itself, which was shown at the start of the original cut, has been excised from this version.

It’s here that we are first introduced to Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Michael’s late brother Sonny, who becomes one of the primary characters in the film. Vincent is trying to reclaim his spot in the family and rise through the ranks to become an heir to Michael, with Michael’s own son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) announcing that he wants to break away from the family business and become an opera singer. But things are complicated by the fact that Vincent has fallen in love with Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), his first cousin.

This incestuous romantic subplot is still a little uncomfortable, and remains so in both versions of the film. Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary, a role that was initially intended for Winona Ryder but went to the director’s daughter instead when she dropped out, has long been one of the most criticized aspects of the film. I think her performance feels a little less jarring now, though. Yes, she still comes across as somewhat awkward compared to the other actors. But she is playing a young woman who is trying to live up to the reputation of her family, and watching the film in a new light, this awkwardness actually fits with the character, who is pretending to be something she’s not.

No, this new cut still doesn’t quite raise The Godfather Part III up to the level of the first two, but it is a fine-tuning of the film. It helps sharpen the deeper themes about the consequences of family members turning on each other, and children paying the price for the sins of their parents, and also elevates the aspects of it that are quite good. Maybe it’s time or maybe the new edit bringing things into sharper focus, but I was really able to appreciate Pacino’s performance here as a man coming to terms with the choices he has made over his life. I actually think it’s some of his finest work, including several poignant scenes when Michael tours Sicily with his ex-wife (Diane Keaton).

This third instalment has long been criticized for being too convoluted and unable to stand on its own, and yes, it’s still a requirement to be very familiar with the first two in order to really get something out of the film, even in its updated and more concise form. But, by changing the title from The Godfather Part III to The Godfather, Coda, which was Coppola’s intended name for the film before Paramount made him change it for branding purposes, we are able to see more clearly what it was always meant to be. Coppola wanted the third film to serve as more of a summing-up of the first two, a “coda” in musical terms, which is clearly reflected in the new title.

If the first two films were about Michael’s rise to power, this one is about giving him time to reflect on the prices he had to pay in order to get to the top. While I actually liked the theatrical cut’s opening and closing scenes, which have been cut or altered here but had a certain poignancy to them, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone will be seen by many as the more definitive version. I don’t know if it’s “better,” but it is a slightly smoother, more refined experience, letting us appreciate this perhaps somewhat unfairly maligned film in a new way.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The biggest downfall of this release is the lack of bonus features. Aside from an optional introduction, there are no extras here, and some deeper discussion about the changes that have been made and the restoration process would have been welcome. A code for a digital copy is included in the package.

Introduction from Francis Ford Coppola (1 minute, 31 seconds): Accessible under the “play” button, this brief intro finds the director talking about what he hoped to achieve with this new cut, as well as the musical origins of the word “coda” and how it relates to the film. It’s worth watching, but I wanted more.

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 157 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 8th, 2020

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: