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

By Christian DiMartino

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which from here out will just be called The Godfather, Coda, is essentially legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s latest re-tinkering of one of his previous movies. In this case, it’s the much maligned The Godfather Part III. Coppola has also done touch ups on Apocalypse Now, twice, and also The Cotton Club. Revisiting The Godfather Part III is certainly interesting though considering its reputation.

To review The Godfather, Coda, is to review The Godfather Part III. It just so happens that I want to talk about The Godfather Part III. Here is a movie that people have no issue trashing. Often treated like the Fredo of The Godfather trilogy, The Godfather Part III is considered by some to be one of the worst sequels of all time. It was also, believe it or not, nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It didn’t win any, but it did go home with two Razzie awards. So, as you can see, there is some polarization at play.

Here is where I come in. There are pretty visible flaws in The Godfather Part III, and said flaws, despite the remastering, are still visible in The Godfather, Coda. With that being said though, I’ve… always… liked it, and this is the part where you chuck lettuce and tomatoes at me. The biggest issue with The Godfather Part III was that it was a sequel to two of the greatest movies ever made, so obviously the bar was pretty damn high. That Coppola didn’t deliver a masterpiece is obvious, but that he didn’t deliver a masterpiece also might not be his fault. The cards were stacked against him; the studio had him by the balls, expecting him to write and direct a sequel of a huge caliber in a rather short amount of time. Said time restraints also led to the infamous casting of future Oscar winner Sofia Coppola. It was also a movie that Coppola never really wanted to make, but did due to financial woes that made him pretty hit or miss after the 70’s. So with all of that in mind, yeah, I like it, and it could and should be a helluva lot worse… but it’s also a sequel to two of the greatest movies ever made, so it should be a helluva lot better.

With The Godfather, Coda, Coppola has given the film a new beginning and a new ending. The original beginning, which reflected upon the ending of The Godfather Part II, has now been replaced by a meeting with a Cardinal- a scene that originally didn’t arrive until 40 minutes in or so. The ending is almost the exact same, with a slight difference- it’s a little more on the subtle side. There are also some touches added to the violence. That’s about it, really. Basically, if you hated The Godfather Part III, The Godfather, Coda will either change your mind, or keep it the same. If you liked The Godfather Part III, it will probably stay the same.

I’ll dive a little into the plot, and then discuss the movie itself, and then I guess we’re done here. The film finds Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in his mid-60’s. Still a well-respected crime boss, he’s currently in the middle of a business deal with the Vatican. He also really feels the urge to, once and for all, leave the lifestyle behind, seeing as it destroyed him and his family to a degree. His son Tony has no interest in taking over, yet it’s the re-emergence of his nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia) that has him wondering if there is a new Godfather in town. Vincent is the bastard son of Michael’s late brother, Sonny (James Caan), and like his daddy, he definitely knows how to handle himself… and also lets his temper get the better of him.

Michael also finds himself in the middle of an all-out mob war with some of the other Dons after he is nearly assassinated. Much of the film follows Michael as he is haunted by his regret. Regret for murdering Fredo, of course, but also regret in terms of his turbulent marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton). Also in the background of the plot, a romance is beginning to bloom between Vincent and Michael’s daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola).

Watching The Godfather, Coda, much of this felt like it did before. I’d probably have to watch the two back to back to spot the differences. The flaws, alas, are still in place though. Though I will say that the storyline with the Vatican does have a slightly better flow to it. There are just some things that, unless The Irishman-style CGI were to be used, cannot be fixed. For example, the casting. Robert Duvall’s presence as Tom Hagen is dearly missed, as Duvall, an Oscar winner by this time, turned down returning because he wanted more money (but Duvall had no problem showing up to Four Christmases). So he was replaced by… George Hamilton, of Zorro, The Gay Blade and… he played Colonel Sanders in a few KFC commercials. Needless to say, he is not a good fit. Nor is Eli Wallach, obviously a fine actor but a strange choice for a mob boss. Also, why cast the lovely Bridget Fonda in this movie if they are going to give her nothing to do? Why not cast her as Mary Corleone?

Ah yes, but the big one is of course Coppola. It also seems like her role is cut a bit here so there’s a perk. She is still, however, in the movie. Coppola won two Razzies for this film, and honestly seeing as it appears as if there was nepotism at play, it seemed like the media was out to get her from the start. It also didn’t help that her performance is pretty terrible. Watching her again in The Godfather, Coda, you can really see that everyone else in this movie can really act… and she can’t. Everyone on screen has a natural presence, and she doesn’t. She simply feels like she wandered onto the set from a different movie, and it wasn’t a good one. Man, what a difference Winona Ryder would’ve made. Coppola did have the last laugh though, seeing as, despite the backlash, she went on to become an Oscar winning filmmaker.

The subplot involving the romance between Vincent and Mary is also pretty weird. I mean, they’re first cousins. This is New York, not Kentucky. Having said that though, perhaps it’s because it’s been a few years since I last saw it, but this subplot did feel as if it was handled a little better in Godfather, Coda. From my recollection, Michael seemed a little nonchalant about the whole thing- or, maybe by Michael Corleone standards he did. His reaction does feel a little stronger here though… or maybe my memory fails me.

So, what exactly did I like about The Godfather Part III? Well, despite the fact that the story probably should’ve ended with Part II, the direction they took Michael’s character is interesting to me. Pacino’s performance here is pretty underrated too- yeah his hair looks kind of goofy at times, but it’s no biggie. It’s also a film that has a good amount of strong moments, despite the occasional weak one. Garcia really shines here too- he’s always been pretty good, but here he’s pretty great. Gordon Willis’ cinematography is still a beauty to behold, as it was with the first two films. It’s the final act though that really brings it home. Set at an opera house, it displays some of Coppola’s finest filmmaking, and it’s a sequence that might even be worthy of the first two. Not to mention the ending, which is slightly altered for The Godfather, Coda. I wish the altering at lasted like thirty seconds longer, but it still ends the film in a haunting, but subtle way.

Some will say that there is more bad than good in The Godfather Part III, but the good in it is pretty good. It’s just not great, but it was also a rushed product. It’s like asking Picasso to whip up a masterpiece in an hour. Chances are, it ain’t happening. I’ve always admired The Godfather Part III more than others, and maybe by watching The Godfather, Coda, you’ll find yourself with an altered opinion. Maybe.

B+

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