The Godfather Part II is not only my favorite film, but I would argue it is the finest film I have ever seen. It’s a perfect movie, from start to finish. No film could ever hope to succeed it.
So when I, one of the staunchest defenders of The Godfather Part III, heard that it would be getting a new edit, I was both curious and excited to see what Francis Ford Coppola did to restore – as much as he could thirty years later – his final film on Michael Corleone.
For almost three decades, Coppola has said that the film didn’t come out exactly how he wanted, but now, after having done the same with The Cotton Club and Apocalypse Now, he’s created his dream iteration of the picture.
While some elements could not be fixed in the editing room – the omission of Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen was always going to prevent Part III from standing alongside its predecessors – The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is awesome. Part III was already underrated, but this version makes everyone that complained about it look even more foolish. Its mix of elegance and palace intrigue has become more powerful over time.
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It was always more of a standalone film than the final act of a trilogy. “The truth is that the first two Godfather movies tell a complete story. There’s no need for a third, and that’s why Coppola avoided making it for years, only succumbing to pressure from Paramount after a few notable financial failures in the ‘80s. And the expectations set by the word Part in the title forced comparisons. It never felt like part of the same story.”
He never wanted to make a third film and, when he finally did agree, he fought – and lost – to call it The Death of Michael Corleone. (In fact, when Al Pacino asked for more money to reprise his iconic role, Coppola threatened to open the film with Michael’s funeral and Pacino acquiesced.)
Coda is only five minutes shorter than the original, but it feels like much more than that because it’s not just about length. The film’s structure has been changed. The film is tighter, the sense of powerful forces working from the shadows even more sinister. The opening to Part III is overwrought and a bit directionless; the updated version is direct and harkens back to the start of Part I, though the stakes are inverted. I always found the ending to III to be heartbreaking and powerful, but I was in the minority.
The new version makes the subtitle operatic – Michael’s death is not physical, but emotional. The death symbolizes the failure of everything he tried to accomplish in his life, from his devotion to protect his family; his obsession in making his family legitimate. He is alive, but he’s alone, his family fractured and gone, his empire in the hands of someone else. Everything his life represented vanished. I would have preferred it without the closing quote, but I trust Coppola’s vision.
There are still flaws – Hagen’s omission; the first cousin love story; Winona Ryder’s exit from the cast – but they are not the cardinal sins they were initially made out to be. Sofia Coppola’s performance as Michael’s daughter Mary was lambasted back in the early ’90s and while Coda doesn’t make her into Meryl Streep, it also proves that she’s not the worst actress in the world either. In fairness, she was asked to play opposite two actors that were stellar in this film. Andy Garcia garnered an Academy Award nomination for his magnetic turn as Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son, Vincent, and Pacino’s performance as an aging Michael who is desperate to reverse his destiny before time runs out is actually one his more underrated roles. One review back in 1990 noted, “Pacino creates a towering portrait of a man torn between his dreams and his guilt,” and that portrait is even more powerful in the new version.
If you’ve never seen The Godfather Part III, then of course you should skip it in favor of this new iteration, but even if you liked, loved, or, most likely, loathed Part III, then I suggest giving The Death of Michael Corleone a fair shake. It’s amazing what the passage of time – as well as a few small, but impactful changes – can do to one’s opinion.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.