So Francis Ford Coppola nipped, tucked and rearranged The Godfather III into a slightly shorter version with a much longer title: The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, now available on VOD. It might take Superman turning back time by flying really fast around the planet to make The Godfather III much more than what it already is — a shrugworthy follow-up to a pair of all-time masterpieces — but Coppola insists in his introduction that the “coda” he assembled contains his and co-writer Mario Puzo’s original vision for the story. If you’re like me, this is an ideal opportunity to give the movie another shot (it says a lot that I never once felt compelled to see it a second time), even if drastic improvement seems rather unlikely.
The Gist: A few decades have passed since Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ordered the hit on his poor brother Fredo. That was one of the most tragic occurrences in movie history, so it’s no stretch that Fredo’s ghostly shadow still hovers over the man in 1979. Michael’s success with the Family Business means he’s now throwing around hundreds of million of dollars, to the Catholic Church, to a new charitable foundation, to legitimate business interests (which I notably didn’t capitalize, because they’re corporate interests focusing on paying as few taxes as possible and making as much money with as little investment as possible, and therefore are only corrupt in all the usual, non-illegal ways).
Eight years have passed since he and Kay (Diane Keaton) divorced. Their daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola), is helping her dad with philanthropic endeavors. Their son, Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio), is ditching law school and the Family Business to be an opera singer, which makes Michael angry. Why, I have no idea. Michael wants to step out of the criminal underworld, and sure seems to be living a life plagued with regret, so why would he want the same for his son? Anyway, the transition to quote-unquote legitimacy is not going smoothly, and I quote-unquote that because now Michael’s getting heavily involved in politics and religion, which sure seems like a step sideways from gambling and embezzlement and all that. Two players are complicating his life: Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), the new mafia power player who’s breaking gangster code by peddling drugs, and Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the “bastard” son of Michael’s late brother Sonny. Vincent is a hothead; the first time he meets Zasa, they tussle, and Vince nearly bites his ear off.
As the longstanding godfather, Michael’s gotta do something, so he tucks Vincent under his wing, leans a bit on his sister Connie (Talia Shire) and tries to smooth over any conflicts among all the dons on his way out the door. Honestly, it’s like putting a helmet full of water on a shark’s head and telling it to walk around on land for the rest of its life. It doesn’t know anything else besides swimming and smelling blood and killing and eating. Perhaps predictably, Michael ends up in the hospital, the victim of stress, which is understandable, considering he barely missed being mowed down by a helicopter gatling gun that took out a whole cadre of underworld bigwigs. Meanwhile, angry Vincent and naive Mary partake in an icky-squidgy first-cousins romance, Anthony preps for his opera debut in Sicily and Kay wields some heavy-artillery skepticism against Michael’s attempt to reconnect with her. Will Michael ever be able to find redemption, or is he forever doomed to be haunted by many, many years of amoral misdeeds? You probably already know the answer to this.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Even in its newly tweaked form, Godfather Coda is about 38 percent the film that its predecessors are.
Performance Worth Watching: If you pay very close attention, you can see Sofia Coppola transitioning to the director’s chair before your very eyes.
Honestly, Keaton makes the best of some clunky material and lends the film a bit of grace. Some have said this features one of Pacino’s best performances, which is apologia for a few scenes of what are, for my tastes, way too exuberant scenery consumption. I cannot abide.
Memorable Dialogue: Man, this script is all over the place. It offers profundity:
“It’s dangerous to be an honest man.” — Michael
And it offers camp:
“Just when I thought I was out — they PULL me back in.” — Michael (and also Silvio Dante), followed by a another snicker-worthy gem:
“IT’S HIS DIABETES!” — Connie
Sex and Skin: Some light postcoital cheesecake via Bridget Fonda, in a quickly dropped nothing role as a journalist having a fling with Vincent until he unflinchingly kills two thugs.
Our Take: Coppola has tweaked some of his other films without really changing any games (he recut The Cotton Club for the better and unnecessarily elongated Apocalypse Now), and this Godfather Coda pretty much follows suit. It only marginally improves upon the original — the beginning is less labored and the ending is pleasingly inconclusive (this time, Michael doesn’t die on screen, implying that his sins don’t deserve the closure inherent in us bearing witness to it). A few bits here and there were trimmed, and only the most dead of die-hards are likely to notice.
So the most relevant contextual discussion here is whether the film sits differently with us 30 years later. I’m afraid time may never be kind to it. The original consisted of all kinds of stuff, and the director didn’t seem to know where to go with it all. The new cut is pretty much the same. It’s a marginal improvement, but there’s no tweaking its muddled plot, clumsy transitions, awkwardly timed soundtrack cues, flat-on-the-nose dialogue and Sofia Coppola and Garcia saying “HEY CUZ” to each other until our eyes roll.
It unfolds, lumpy and graceless, weighed down by a sense of obligation to exhume and finish a story that was already pretty much finished in Part II (Coppola was reportedly pressured to direct a hit after too many ambitious failures). Michael’s inevitable confession to the priest feels inert, and lacks the dramatic potency it deserves. In one subplot, the Pope his damn self is poisoned, and we mostly just shrug. The big final sequence features impressively dramatic mirror shots of the stage opera and the big final tragedy on the stairs, but otherwise it’s a shallow pastiche of the christening sequence in the first film.
The Godfather III isn’t without its maker’s occasional masterly flourishes — magisterial set pieces, an eye for period detail, opulent visual compositions. But it can’t avoid coasting on the cache of its far superior predecessors (it earned a pile of Oscar nods on the fumes of franchise reputation). It’s a reiteration of things done much better in the previous chapters. The story of someone with a bad reputation trying to weasel his way into legitimacy sounds like a meta-narrative for the film and this re-release.
Our Call: SKIP IT. The Godfather III has its apologists, and they’ll get the most value out of the Coda. But as far as I’m concerned, a dud by any other name is still a dud.
This article was originally posted here