Coppola’s restoration of The Godfather III, titled The Godfather Coda, aims to reframe the film as a fitting epilogue. But which version is better?
Is Francis Ford Coppola’s new cut, The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, better than the 1990s The Godfather Part III? Ever since its release, The Godfather Part III has always been perceived as a footnote, a creative misfit in The Godfather Trilogy, being overshadowed by its cinematically immaculate predecessors. Coppola has been a maestro of the Director’s Cut format, as exemplified in 2001’s Apocalypse Now Redux, a painstaking expansion of his Vietnam masterpiece. This has now given way to The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which is now in theatres and will be available on Blu-ray and VOD on December 8th.
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One of the major criticisms of The Godfather Part III, as summed up by Rotten Tomatoes, is its “underwhelming performances and confused tonality”, especially Sofia Coppola’s underwhelming portrayal of Mary Corleone during the third Godfather film. While The Godfather Coda does not alter elements in terms of performances, it is more tautly paced by Coppola, as it runs a shorter 157 minutes, as opposed to the original runtime of 167 minutes. Apart from editing refurbishes, The Godfather Coda feels more poignant and elegiac, as it clarifies Michael’s (Al Pacino) intense need for expiation, haunted as he is by his sins, mainly the assassination of Fredo.
Before comparing the two versions in terms of merit, it is important to understand that both Coppola and author Mario Puzo intended the third film in the trilogy to be a summation of the first two. It was supposed to be a true “coda” or concluding event, whereas Paramount understandably wished to treat The Godfather Part III as a grand finale that ended the saga with a flourish. This gap between intention and reality brought about an unsatisfactory final product, something which undergoes reconstruction in The Godfather Coda. While the changes are not drastic, they are indeed significant, starting with an absence of the classic Godfather marionette logo. The Godfather Coda is more prosaic in terms of narrative structure, imbuing the new cut with an emotional weight that was missing in the original version. Moreover, the new cut also establishes that its title does not refer to the literal death of Michael Corleone, but a spiritual one, having lost his daughter and been denied redemption for the atrocities he committed over the years.
The alteration of the opening sequence in The Godfather Coda, in which Coppola replaces the Lake Tahoe scene with Michael’s meeting with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) imparts a notable tonal shift to the film, centering on the power of forgiveness, a unified theme that runs throughout this version. This evokes a starker contrast with Michael’s initial declaration to Kay (Diane Keaton) in The Godfather: “That’s my family, Kay; it’s not me.”, which serves to elevate the immense source of guilt harbored by Michael and the illusory nature of redemption for him. For Michael, the path to his fate was set the moment he had volunteered to assassinate Sollozzo and McClusky, eventually leading to an inevitable embitterment between him and Kay, something he had accepted as collateral damage when he chose to be a part of the family business.
Keeping these myriad factors in mind, it emerges that The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is a marked improvement than The Godfather Part III, as it offers a fitting epilogue to the masterful saga, and is worth consideration. It is important to note that changes in the new cut are not drastic, and certain factors like the absence of Robert Duvall, namely the Corleone consigliere Tom Hagen, and Sofia Coppola’s stiff performance remain unfixable. Despite these shortcomings, The Godfather Coda is an interesting endeavor and a more satisfactory watch than the original entry.
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