Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Coda: “The Death of Michael Corleone” (1990 / 2020)

Otherwise known as The Godfather Part 3.

The 1970’s and 80’s were largely a time of vast success and praise for writer / director Francis Ford Coppola and in that time, he gifted us with some undeniably fantastic films, including two of the most masterful gangster movies ever committed to celluloid; those being The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part 2 (1974). The 1990’s arguably saw a downgrade in quality and influence from Coppola (though I still think 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula needs to be counted among his greats) and it would be a safe assumption that the third entry into the Godfather series, at the kickoff of that decade, was the beginning of said decline…and with good reason.

Simply put, the way-after-the-fact 3rd, and presumably final, title in the trilogy paled in comparison to the two masterpieces that proceeded it. Even in my early teens, having already seen and appreciated the previous films in the series, something felt ‘off’ to me the first time I saw Part 3 on VHS (don’t recall the details, just the lasting first impression). As a result, I’ve always viewed it as something of a hanger-on to the two classic titles that had come before, sort of a half-baked epilogue to an over-arcing storyline that didn’t need one, no doubt prodded into existence by studio greed rather than artistic necessity.

But in 1990, that’s what we got.

Perhaps the ravages of time and aging have got Coppola, who’s getting up there in years (and who is sadly looking a little rough, if I’m honest about it), considering his cinematic legacy and wanting to go back to correct issues he’s had with the release versions of some of his more notable past works, while he still has the time and resources to do so before heading into the Great Beyond. We’ve already got not one but two terrific new versions of his amazing 1979 drug-fuelled Vietnam nightmare Apocalypse Now (the Redux and most recently, the Final Cut), and he also just recently gifted us movie nerds with a vastly superior cut of his much-maligned 1984 gangster musical Box Office misfire The Cotton Club, the Encore version of which impressed me enough (I was SO happy to get a properly restored director’s cut that undeniably improved that movie. Reminds me of my first Alien 3 Assembly Cut experience.) to get my hopes up when I first got wind that the third Godfather film would be next to under his revisionist knife.

As ‘Coppola Director’s Cuts’ go…this is easily his weakest so far. I wish that I could say otherwise, but the name of the game here at thekneejerkreaction.com is go-with-your-gut honesty, and I have to be honest with you.

The changes he’d made to Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club, most of which I readily approve of (though I still hate the useless ”Willard’ smokes opium with French chick’ scene, Francis!), actually have a noticeable impact on the overall stories, while also adding much welcome scope, depth, and detail. In laymen’s terms, you get added ‘cool’.

Sadly, I can’t really say the same for this one, though there are admittedly improvements, albeit small ones.

The Godfather Coda takes place in 1979 as the now ultra-powerful mob boss ‘Michael Corleone’ (Al Pacino) engages with the Vatican in a bid to legitimize the Corleone Family through the take-over of a huge, Church-controlled corporation. Along the way, he must deal with emergence of hot-headed nephew ‘Vincent’ (Andy Garcia), a wayward headcase of a daughter ‘Mary’ (Sofia Coppola), icy ex-wife ‘Kay’ (Diane Keaton), vengeful spurned gangster ‘Joey Zasa’ ( Joe Montegna) and the ruthless cunning of a traitor in his midst, all leading up to a literally operatic finale’ for Michael’s tragic narrative.

A few weeks ago, in anticipation for the release of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Coda: “The Death of Michael Corleone” (bit of an unnecessary mouthful with that new spoilery title there, Francis!), I pulled out my Blu ray of The Godfather Part 3 as a refresher, especially since it must be at least 20 years since I’ve seen it.

Not gonna lie…I got through 3/4s of the flick’s hefty, near-3 hour run-time before my eyelids started drifting toward home plate. Sorry Mr. Coppola…but the Theatrical-version of Part 3 is a boring slog, occasionally punctuated by the odd bout of intrigue and nasty blood-letting. Somehow, it lacks the intensity and engagement of the previous two films. Sure, it looks just like them (as usual for Coppola – beautiful cinematography), but it lacks the intrigue and the ‘heart’ of Parts 1 and 2.

So, baring that in mind, I scored myself a copy of this hopefully-awesome newly restored and revamped version and set aside some time on a grey and drizzly post Xmas quarantine Saturday afternoon to see if F.F.C. could continue his winning streak of recently released Director’s Cuts.

Out came a beer and my notepad…

*hits Play*

-New intro gets right to the point. Cardinal visit. No beat-for-beat overblown throwback scene. This is one of the most notable changes in the edit. The Theatrical version opened with a slow, dreamlike montage showing the dark and shuttered mansion at Lake Tahoe along with other imagery from Part 2, sort of a Previously On…-type of intro, before we end up at a way-overblown party sequence at a large Corleone event, where Michael is knighted. To me, it feels like an obvious throwback to the opulent wedding scene that opens the first film, right down to the back-and-forth’s of Michael meeting with associates in between party sequences. It works, but it’s pretty on-the-nose, and seems to take forever. This scene isn’t gone…just moved and trimmed, thankfully.

– Sofia intro still painful…and this weird incest cousin shit? WTF?! Ok, so I think we can all agree that Coppola’s daughter Sofia (who’s gone on to become a talented and successful director in her own right) is the weakest link in this film. The Behind the Scenes of her casting were unfortunate, as originally Winona Ryder (a personal fave of mine) was cast in the role of Corleone daughter ‘Mary’, but dropped out due to ‘exhaustion’ at the last minute, forcing Francis to turn to non-actress daughter Sofia to reluctantly step in. I do feel bad for her, but her presence, as shitty as this might be to put out there, is a MAJOR detriment to the film. The Godfather series is renowned for its master-class acting and she sticks out like a sore thumb. And then there’s how her character is written, and this shit woulda bothered me even if (or especially if) Winona took on the role. Right off the bat, there’s this bizarre, unsettling attraction between ‘Mary’ and ‘Vincent’ (Andy Garcia); unsettling because they’re FIRST COUSINS, and they goddamn well know and acknowledge it!! What in the hell is that weird icky shit about, Francis?!

I feel like I need a shower now.

– Still woulda liked to have seen Duvall. I’ve always appreciated renowned actor Robert Duvall (Falling Down) and found his portrayal of adopted brother / loyal family counsel ‘Tom Hagen’ to be a most welcome member of the family dynamic, a voice of logic and reason, even when it came to the most despicable of acts. But apparently in 1990 his star had risen to a point where he could effectively command a fatter salary, a salary that Paramount wasn’t willing to cough up. So instead they wrote in the character of ‘B.J.’ (George Hamilton), who happens to now be the late Tom Hagen’s oldest son, while looking pretty advanced in years himself. He was an ok place-holder but Duvall would’ve classed the joint up.

– That first kill brutal! Coppola uncomfortably creative with the violence. Gun under the jaw. Andy Garcia’s ‘Vincent’ gets the first kills of the flick, when two hoods hired by nemesis ‘Joey Zasa’ invade his apartment one night in an attempt to assassinate the fiery-tempered Corleone nephew. Using Bridget Fonda’s barely-present (and barely clothed) reporter character as bait, he gets the drop on the scumbags, demonstrating his resolve by jamming a gun barrel into one overly belligerent asshole’s lower jaw, abruptly blowing his brains out all over a mirror. It’s a fast, brutal kill and another demonstration of Coppola’s tendency to competently film and edit gnarly death scenes, going back to the first flick (and others in his filmography). The other guy takes a bullet messily through an open hand and open face, shortly after spilling the beans.

Poor Sofia Coppola. Just sucks. Again, the flat, wooden line deliveries were cringe-worthy. I know, she was trying to help her dad out but if you’re not an actor…you’re not an actor.

-More incest shit! Why?! So odd, and the characters fuckin know it! Baffling. Just…baffling. I have no idea why either writer Mario Puzo or Francis Ford Coppola thought this creepy-ass story line was a good idea. Are we supposed to be rooting for these two FIRST COUSINS to hook up and bang?! I just don’t get it.

– Best scene – Atlantic City Helicopter Massacre. Admittedly this sequence would honestly be more at home in a Die Hard flick but it certainly livens the proceedings up for a few minutes when a last meeting of the mob bosses in a penthouse suite before ‘Michael’ goes legit is interrupted by a helicopter-borne Uzi attack, which lays waste to the entire room from above…and almost everyone in it. Gory sub-machine gun carnage at every turn and it was just fine with me.

– Ugh! More Sofia / incest yuckiness! This shit continues!

– Take THAT, Zasa. Good death scene. Another solid sequence is the ambush of shady asshole ‘Joey Zasa’ and his goons during an Italian street festival, culminating with ‘Vincent’, disguised as a cop on horse-back, cornering the traitorous bastard and gunning him down in broad daylight. Scumbag had it coming!

– Diabetes angle always felt odd. At least twice, ‘Michael’ is struck down by diabetes, once as an attack, the other as a stroke. I guess it was made to show his growing vulnerabilities as he sought to change his life and legacy for the better…but who knows. Just seemed a little weird, watching Pacino flail around like a gimp.

– Not seeing many changes. While the beginning has definitely been restructured and a couple scenes had been noticeably trimmed, I wasn’t feeling as though what had been done did the overall movie any major favors, with regards to speeding up the bloated pace or adding any fresh material to flesh some things out.

– Still drags in the 2nd Act. This was scribbled in conjunction with the last note, as not enough dynamic changes had been made to smooth out or speed up the dragging narrative, especially in the dialogue-heavy 2nd Act.

– Oh damn! Glasses death! Forgot about that! During a sequence that either pays homage to or directly rips off the infamous baptism scene from the climax of the first film, we see a number of deadly plans sprung into action in a dramatic montage. One of these has a loyal associate of ‘Michael’ pay a visit to an unsuspecting enemy, after having been thoroughly patted down, only to grab the hosts own glasses and viciously stab and dig at the surprised fellas spurting throat before absorbing several bodyguard’s bullets. It’s a borderline silly and far-fetched idea that is made acceptable in the context of a Godfather movie by just how fucking gross the effect is. I cringed. Good job, Francis. *applauds*

– Best acting from Sofia yet! Because…*SPOILERS*…she’s dead! As the assassins move in to carry out their plan to send ‘Michael’ for an extended dirt nap on the steps of the opera house, a bullet punches through his shoulder…and takes ‘Mary’ square in the chest. Even her collapse to the ground was high-school drama class-level but at least she lay still and bled out just fine.

– Not a huge improvement. Kinda says it right there.

All in all, I can see where the changes were made for this new version, but I don’t think it’s enough. I just feel that on a script level, this flick was a dud, in either the Theatrical or the Coda version, especially as it had the gigantic shoes of the masterfully crafted first two films to fill. It’s not specific key scenes, it’s the whole Part 3 narrative that comes up short…and no amount of re-editing is going to change that.

I feel that the film would’ve improved significantly had Robert Duvall and Winona Ryder joined the cast as planned, but some of the written material would need to go too…like that weird, fucking incest plot-line. I just don’t get it.

How did that make it into a final shooting script?!

What narrative purpose did it really serve?!

Who thought it was a good idea?!

Why are you trying to gross me out, Francis Ford Coppola?!!!

WHY?!!!

Incest = NO!

So yeah…considerable points lost there. But overall, I just don’t find it all that engaging…not like Part 1 and Part 2. Those films are amazing…this one is not, in either version. Sure, the cinematography is pretty, some of the characters are intriguing and some of the violence is slick but it just doesn’t pull me in.

In a nutshell, if you already have an opinion about The Godfather Part 3, the odds are very good that this new cut will not change your mind about it. Subjectively speaking, despite it’s rich narrative pedigree, this third movie feels like an afterthought, and not a very engaging one either. We don’t actually need Part 3, as parts 1 and 2 beautifully hold together as one complete story.

If you’ve never seen this movie and are something of a Coppola completist, of course I would recommend this newly cut version to check out, as some of the glaring pacing issues have been addressed, making the drag on the sprawling narrative a bit more palatable the first time out.

It’s not a bad movie…just an unremarkable one.

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