THE GODFATHER CODA:
THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE ½
2020, R, 157 mins.
Al Pacino as Don Michael Corleone / Diane Keaton as Kay Adams Michelson / Talia Shire as Connie Corleone Rizzi / Andy Garcia as Vincent Mancini / Eli Wallach as Don Altobello / Joe Mantegna as Joey Zasa / George Hamilton as BJ Harrison / Bridget Fonda as Grace Hamilton / Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola / Written by Coppola and Mario Puzo
Coppola's THE GODFATHER: PART III opened in cinemas 30 years ago this
month, which, in turn, came several years after the landmark success of
the first two multiple Academy Award winning entries in the series that
adapted author Mario Puzo's original novels. The initial GODFATHER film was a massive audience and
critical darling effort that put Coppola on the cinematic map, and its
follow-up - just as praised, if not more so - solidified the director as
one of the pre-eminent artists of his generation. Then a few decades later
- and after a series of box office failures in the 80s like ONE FROM THE
HEART and THE COTTON CLUB - came THE GODFATHER: PART III, which Coppola -
by his own admission - begrudgingly opted to make because (a) he
desperately needed a hit and (b) Paramount Pictures' stubbornly insisted
on a third entry.
reviews for the time and a handful of Oscar nominations (including Best
Picture), THE GODFATHER: PART III has regrettably emerged as the black
sheep of this mafia drama trilogy and has earned (somewhat rightfully) a
reputation for being the weakest of the saga.
I've always admired the picture while not turning a blind eye to
its faults (many of which will be commented on in a bit), but even Coppola
himself has never been thoroughly satisfied with his resulting work.
Flashforward 30 years and the now 81-year-old filmmaker has
returned to his lesser GODFATHER film and - with the support and backing
of Paramount - has formulated a complete re-edit of the film, replete with
a vastly different and new opening, ending, and a whole new title (the
sort of more longwinded and spoilery THE GODFATHER CODA: THE DEATH OF
MICHAEL CORLEONE). It should
be noted that this isn't the first time that Coppola has re-engineered his
gangster opus (or other films on his resume, for that matter): He
infamously took the first two GODFATHERS and edited them together in
chronological order in 1977 to form one seven hour film, not to mention
that he's made so many cuts of APOCALYPSE NOW that I've frankly lost
So, here's the question: Is THE GODFATHER CODA vastly superior to THE GODFATHER: PART III and worth the long wait?
The short answer: sort of.
The new iteration
is not a radically re-imagined version of polarizing THE GODFATHER: PART
III, but its changes nevertheless segue between sizeable and gracefully
subtle. It should be noted
that with THE GODFATHER CODA that Coppola has conjured up, for the
positive, a leaner and more tightly edited trilogy closer that flows with
better pacing and momentum. The
film remains an ambitious minded, impeccably acted, handsomely produced,
and, yes, flawed multi-generational mob family epic finale.
Perhaps the best
way to describe THE GODFATHER CODA is that it feels more condensed and
complete and serves the purposes of being a genuine coda (in musical
terms, it's a passage that brings a piece to a sense of closure, and in
Coppola's mind facilitates his original conception of the film being an
epilogue to what's come before). As
for the changes, well that comes right smack dab at the beginning of the
film (and moving forward in this review, we'll be diving into spoilers,
but I'm not sure if such a warning is necessary for such an old sequel).
The original GODFATHER: PART III always had a hastily cobbled
together opening, which juxtaposed images from an abandoned Corleone Lake
Tahoe home (the place of the murder of Michael Corleone's brother Fredo by
his own order) with a sober voiceover track by Michael (Al Pacino)
lamenting on the past and his relationship with his family.
This is all refreshingly abandoned here, with Coppola instead
opening with a scene that before played out much later in the original.
We witness Michael - right after the opening title card -
negotiating a massive million dollar deal with the struggling Vatican
Bank, whose financially strapped Archbishop is clamoring for Corleone
investment. Not only does is this new intro staggeringly better, but it
also echoes the similar structure of THE GODFATHER PART I as it introduced
us to Marlon Brando's iconic Vito Corleone meeting with one of his
underlines that's begging for help.
The greatness of
this new opening is that it immediately cements the core themes and
character dynamics of the piece: The intense yearning of Michael to
abandon his sinful life of crime and murder and go straight up legit with
philanthropy via his vast fortune. From
this point THE GODFATHER CODA doesn't stray all that far away from the
basic narrative trajectory of the previous version.
The story transitions to the swanky after-party of the Corleone/Vatican
deal and introduces us to some of the new players in the saga, like Andy
Garcia's hot headed nephew of Michael, Vincent (who's an uncanny echo of
his dead father Sonny - played by James Cann in the first film - for being
a shoot-first loose cannon). It
seems like we get to meet this key character much quicker in THE GODFATHER
CODA than before, which is a good thing, not to mention that his fractured
business relationship with another mafioso in Joey Zazza (Joe Mantegna),
who more quickly emerges here as a threat to Michael's yearning to forget
the past and go straight. His
wife, on the other hand, in Kay (Diane Keaton) sees past this newly
acquired good guy facade of her husband and still perceives him to be a
danger to everyone around him, including his daughter, Mary (Sofia
Coppola), who seems somewhat oblivious to her dad's past dark deeds.
portions of THE GODFATHER CODA don't tend to migrate too much from the
original, and Coppola has, more or less, just made little tweaks and edits
here and there to make for a more streamlined and agreeably shorter film
(the new runtime, by the way, runs a better 157 minutes, ten-plus minutes
shorter than PART III). In
particular, Eli Wallach's competing Don Altobella seems to occupy less
scenes this go around, but it should be noted that Sophia Coppola's role
doesn't appear to be truncated in any way.
Her inclusion in the film (and performance) has always been the
stuff of controversy and criticism over the years (she was, to be fair, a
very last minute substitute for Wionna Ryder, who had to drop out of the
film at the eleventh hour due to health concerns).
Long before she became a respected and Oscar winning director like
her dad in her own right, Sophia Coppola's acting career was essentially
over after the poor notices she received from critics and fans for her
work as Mary, but I frankly feel that most of the hostility towards her
has been hyperbolic. She's
definitely an acting greenhorn here, and some of her scenes have an
untrained stiffness to them (I won't elaborate any further on her death
scene...that one's been done...to death), but I still think that she
acclimated herself fine in a handful of scenes, especially in one of the
finest moments in the film that she shares with her first cousin in
Vincent while engaging in some heavy incestuous innuendo while prepping
food. She's quite natural in
this moment and plays well off of Garcia.
Unfortunately, I doubt that haters of her performance will have
their mind changed by watching THE GODFATHER CODA.
watching this new take made me respect some of the other performances even
more, like Garcia's criminally undervalued turn as his itchy trigger
fingered sociopath that his stress plagued uncle Michael simply sees as
no-good to him right now, but feels obligated to take him in out of family
loyalty. I don't think that
Garcia was ever better in a film before or since THE GODFATHER: PART III,
and Pacino himself here is so thanklessly dialed in that I firmly believe
that it's one of his most overlooked performances.
This Michael is more emotionally and physically broken down by life
and forever haunted by the unpardonable choices he has made in it, and you
can sense the wounded vulnerability of the character throughout because of
Pacino's choices here. His
moment of silent anguish in the film's climax might be one of the more
powerfully sad images of the whole trilogy.
Speaking of endings,
that's where THE GODFATHER CODA - like the aforementioned beginning -
really changes things up. Everything
builds up to it in the same manner - like the masterful opera sequence
that plays out beforehand - but once poor Mary is sacrificed by a botched
Michael assassination attempt by his enemies, Coppola then shifts us to
the future and shows an elderly and frail Michael sitting all alone in the
Sicilian country. This was still in THE GODFATHER: PART III, but this go around
Coppola has edited out the unintentionally funny moment of Michael
slumping out of his chair and flopping onto the ground in death and
instead doesn't show him pass away at all, but rather cuts to a title card
with an old proverb about a Sicilian's penchant for never forgetting.
This new ending is more compelling, mostly because it renders the
new title wonderfully ironic as well as emphasizing that Michael seems to
have faced a fate worse than death: Living into the winter years of his
life estranged from all of those that loved him for all of the terrible
decisions that cost him so much in the past.
The new finale to THE GODFATHER CODA has a more poetic sense of
somber, long term tragedy to it now.
Alas, THE GODFATHER CODA still remains the third best GODFATHER film. Having said that, what GODFATHER sequel could have topped the first two installments? That notion alone makes one understand why Coppola was so reticent for so many years to make PART III in the first place, but was (in his words) "seduced" back in by the studio to give it one last kick at the can after a decade of artistic flops. THE GODFATER CODA feels paradoxically different from PART III, but similar in many respects, but it's certainly an unmissable film for series diehards, or cinephiles that love seeing alternate takes on familiar classics. On a negative, those that have felt mightily stung by the original GODFATHER: PART III probably won't have their minds changed with this newly minted version, but I, for one, have emerged as an apologist for the franchise ender over the years, which makes me coming out of THE GODFATHER CODA appreciating Coppola's original work here (and alterations) even more. Very few filmmakers the age of Coppola are given offers they can't refuse to go back to old films on their resumes long after release and re-make them to their original specifications and vision. That makes THE GODFATHER CODA essential viewing and - flaws and all - a worthy part of this densely layered franchise that chronicled family, crime, power hungry ruthlessness, and failed attempts at redemption.