Francis Ford Coppola is no stranger to heading back into the editing room to create new cuts of his films. He made one of the most famous re-cuts of them all with Apocalypse Now: Redux and even came back to that again with last year's Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut. He hasn't waited long to accept the chance to revisit another of his films, one which has a, shall we say, less beloved reputation amongst his fans when compared to something like Apocalypse Now.
For this return to the editing room, Coppola is taking another look at The Godfather: Part III. There are those that say that The Godfather: Part III is a blight on the legacy of the first two films, two films often regarded as some of the greatest films of all time. I, for one, have always found it to be an engrossing mafia drama, with enough going for it to stand as a decent sequel. Yes, it is not as good as its predecessors, but not many things are. Yet, it does have a negative reputation, one of being a disappointment, and it is clearly an issue that has been on Coppola's mind.
With reordered scenes, a slightly different ending, and the originally desired title put back in place, Coppola has aimed to craft the film more in the fashion of what he and Godfather-creator Mario Puzo had wanted to achieve. What that film is, as expressed by Coppola in his introduction to the film, is a summation of the thematic concerns of the first two films, an epilogue to the character's stories, a filmic coda, as the new title presents it.
The story remains entirely the same, chronicling Michael Corleone's (Al Pacino) declining health in the late 70's and early 80's as he tries to secure a huge deal with the European real-estate company Internazionale Immobiliare, a deal that will finally make the Corleone family legitimate and take them out of the mafia underworld. However, the other families aren't going to let Michael make such a bold move so easily.
With the story remaining predominantly as it was back in 1990, those looking for this new version to completely change the way they view the movie will be left wanting. The most significant change here is the title, and it is a title that demands you to reframe how you approach the film. It does set you up to consider this more of an epilogue than as a straightforward sequel. Therefore, the less subtle approach that the film has in comparison to the first two ends up being a little easier to accept than before, as it is indeed designed to reflect on Michael's rise to power and how that aggressive expansion has affected those closest to him.
It may feel like a way for Coppola to cover himself and ease what perceived flaws the film does have, but aside from that this isn't too different an experience. There's a reordering of scenes at the start and a minor change to the ending that feels like an odd decision when you see it, and if anything it ends up making this revisit a less complete experience to that of the original cut. But as I mentioned before, I am someone who has always found The Godfather Part III to be a compelling look into a man reaping what he has sown, so any revisit to this final chapter/epilogue/coda/whatever you're comfortable with is going to be a welcome one to anyone who has always considered the film in a favourable light .
In any form, this film still contains some strong performances and exceptionally constructed sequences that make it an often emotional and dramatic conclusion, even if the whole thing never flows as smoothly as anything Coppola made in the 70's. There's still plenty here that impresses, with the Opera House sequence in the final act coming to mind in particular, a sequence I would argue is as nerve-wracking and stirring as other similar sequences in the first two films.
While much has been made in the past about Sofia Coppola's performance in this film, it is never as bad as some would make it out to be. Yes, she never particularly seems comfortable in front of the camera, but if anything that helps to evoke more sympathy towards both her and her character of Mary, Michael's daughter. She does struggle in scenes where she's playing opposite the more confident Andy Garcia (giving a very cool, fiery performance as Michael's nephew and would-be successor) and the more seasoned Pacino, but it is never a performance that feels as though it derails the entire enterprise as many critics back in 1990 deemed it to be.
The film very much belongs to Pacino, and he is excellent as the ageing Michael. This is a Michael who is now reflecting on the life he has led and what legacy he is leaving behind, some of it plaguing him with profound regret and sorrow. It is largely down to Pacino's committed and vulnerable turn that we find Michael sympathetic, when he is largely to blame for the tragedies in his life. It is an exploration of the character that expresses the notion that he is beyond redemption, even if he can never accept that fact himself. It's a portrayal that makes this epilogue absolutely worth your time, and also what makes it a more than fitting accompaniment to the previous two instalments.
Anyone looking for an experience that will radically change their opinion of the third Godfather film will not find that here. It is effectively the same film where, if anything, the couple of changes made make it a slightly less satisfying experience than its original form. But for those that have always found much to appreciate in the final chapter of the life of Michael Corleone, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, gives fans the chance to at least go in with a different sense of expectation. It is a film that remains thematically compelling in its own right, with a pivotally engaging Pacino commanding it. You may not have your opinion swayed, but it is a film very deserving of a second chance, and will prove to be an offer that many fans will find hard to refuse.
Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
Scr: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Prd: Francis Ford Coppola
DOP: Gordon Willis
Music: Carmine Coppola
Runtime: 157 minutes
Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is in select cinemas from 5th and 6th December and available on Blu-ray™ and to Download & Keep 8th December