The Godfather Part III (Part II) - Adults Only
After two films were made forming one of the most influential movie sagas of all time, The Godfather Part III was generally dismissed as the misfit of the group. Many critics and Godfather fans decried the complicated, messy plot and especially Sofia Coppola's dry acting. Having seen it, I, too, feel like they hampered the movie. At the same time, however, the film still benefited from other aspects working in its favor, such as the acting from the returning cast, the performances from Andy Garcia and Donal Donnelly, and even the third act in Palermo which I thought saved the movie. I'm more in the group who adores the first two films to high heaven and yet feels that Part III, though not as good as the first two, still had enough good stuff to make it a decent followup.
Francis Ford Coppola was on the same boat. For a while, he and Mario Puzo always looked at The Godfather Parts I and II as telling the whole story they needed to tell and thought that the third film was just the epilogue. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Last year, after coming off strong with his director's cut of Apocalypse Now, Coppola decided to give it a go with The Godfather: Part III and edit it in a way that matched his and Mario Puzo's intended vision.
The result was called The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. Did it save Part III?
I feel I won't need to repeat the story to you since it's the same as the theatrical cut. But I will start my critique on Coda by saying this. All Coppola did with the movie was provide it a new beginning, a new ending, and re-organize some scenes in a way that he felt would've worked.
Let's start with the beginning. The theatrical cut started with scenes of the Corleone family's old establishment in Lake Tahoe, which had gone to ruin. Then, Michael wrote to Anthony and Mary, inviting them and the rest of his family to attend the coronation ceremony, where he was honored the Insignia of St. Sebastian at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. However, in this cut, the movie started on Michael's briefing with Archbishop Gilday on taking over Immobiliare through Gilday’s connections with the Vatican bank. Only then did he write to his children to gather with him and the rest of their family.
From then onward, the chips started to fall into place.
With this scene from the middle of the movie repositioned as the beginning scene, the motivations and their chain reaction started to add up. It demonstrated that as a wealthy and powerful yet struggling Mafia businessman, Michael had to gather his family to support his cause to provide family strength, and his last resort, it seemed, was his conquest of Immobiliare. Michael's ruthlessness cost him almost everything, and yet his hunger for power within the Mafia regime urged him to keep going.
Even the relationship between Mary and Vincent, which I thought he disapproved, was seen as just an advantage for him. The impression I got this time around was that he intended to use their relationship as a chess piece to move against his enemies, particularly Don Altobello, whom Michael asked Vincent to be in pseudo-cahoots with to fool him.
As far as Michael's pursuits for Immobiliare were concerned, the other Mafia heads competed against Michael because his endless climb for power turned them off. In addition, Michael sought out Gilday because by being connected to the Vatican Bank, he also had connections with the pope, Pope Paul VI. But once Pope Paul VI passed away, and Pope John Paul I – who had different ideals with the Mafia underworld – started to take over, there was a scramble that followed suit as Michael and his associates attempted to seize control of Immobiliare by any means necessary, including the assassination of Gilday.
In short, as Part III, the plot moved forth like a tangled web. But as Coda, the plot moved more like a series of nicely stacked dominoes falling where they should.
Something else you might catch with The Godfather Coda is that unlike most director's cuts, where they're usually longer than the theatrical cut, outside of being potentially re-organized, this cut was shorter than the theatrical cut by 10 minutes. That told me that it had to get rid of some scenes that either went too long or served no purpose in the story. And I ought to give it credit; these trims made the movie excel at frightening, alerting, and saddening us with what we don't see.
One such scene that gave that impression was the scene with Don Altobello and Mosca. In the theatrical cut, Altobello asked Mosca to get rid of a "stone in the shoe" that he had, to which Mosca asked, "only one stone?", and then just agreed, laughed it off, and enjoyed their Italian meal. In Coda, Altobello asked Mosca about his "stone in the shoe", Mosca asked this question, and then it cut to Michael and his family getting off the train in Baghera. That felt very effective because it heightened the intimidation and dread factor with Altobello without letting the more fanciful elements of the movie get in the way. Not to mention, it gave the line, "only one stone?" a lot more meaning. You can tell they were hinting at whacking Michael Corleone, while Mosca's question indicated that there may have been more people for them to whack outside of just Michael.
There was, thankfully, one prominent element of the movie that was saved by this process. And believe it or not, that would be Sofia Coppola. Now, in general, she still felt as awkward in her performance as she was in the theatrical cut. But the trims applied onto her were not too heavy-duty, and they only took away her more egregious, obnoxious moments. So, her role in the movie, faulty as it was, was still intact.
One scene I know of that did her a favor was when she argued with Michael about being with Vincent. When Mary was at her breaking point with Michael about not seeing Vincent in Part III, she yelled, "No, Dad!", and left in a huff. The delivery of that line felt forced and completely lacked conviction. In Coda, on the other hand, Mary, when reaching her breaking point, said "No…", quietly and modestly, but still brimming with resentment against Michael, before cutting to her and Vincent making love in a bedroom.
Dare I say it, though they didn't fix her performance, trims like these helped heighten Sofia's elegance and make her feel more nuanced compared to how she was in Part III.
And the other significant change made to Part III in this version was the ending. And… even I'll admit, I found it pretty hit-and-miss.
Here's how the original one played out: after witnessing Mary die in his hands and screaming in despair, the movie showed flashbacks of Michael's dances with the women he loved. First with Mary Corleone, then with Apollonia in Part I, and then with Kay in Part II. After that, it cut to the elderly Michael sitting and putting on his sunglasses until he toppled over himself to his death.
In this one, what happened after Michael's scream of despair? It cut to him dancing with Mary Corleone before finally showing the elderly Michael sitting and putting on his sunglasses and then fading out to black. Then, the movie and series ended with a closing statement that went, and I quote:
When the Sicilians wish you "Cent'anni", it means "for long life". …and a Sicilian never forgets.
And this ties me back to my statement about Coppola's preferred title, The Death of Michael Corleone. Despite Coppola wanting to use this title, Paramount shut it down because it felt misplaced, unlike 'The Godfather'. Also, it gave away what would eventually have happened to Michael by the end of the movie. But even then, it leads us to more engaging waters with this movie: which death of Michael Corleone did the title allude to?
In Part III, it ended with the literal death of Michael Corleone in Don Tommasino's villa. But in Coda, the death was more of Michael's soul than it was of Michael himself. Michael built his empire around the Corleone family for the past two films, but everything he stood for, everything he ever loved, they all vaporized when he saw Mary die in front of him. So, this ended up becoming a symbolic death of Michael Corleone, and it tied into the themes of The Godfather Saga.
I found this very well played. But, interestingly enough, I noticed some gripes from other people saying this wasn't as effective as in Part III. For one reason, the flashbacks centered on all the women Michael lost in his life, besides just Mary. And they leaned toward the original ending for yet another reason: it also gave its share of thematic character comparisons with Vito. Whereas Vito died happy and surrounded by family and friends, Michael died miserable and alone. Much like Coda's ending, Part III's ending also tied into the overarching themes of The Godfather.
However, whereas Part III's ending tied into the "Vito vs. Michael" comparisons that have already been perfected in Part II, Coda's ending meant to emphasize the saga's themes concerning Michael alone and how far he had fallen since Part II. Honestly, much like Little Shop of Horror's two endings, I have no preference between the two. They both worked just fine.
Some scenes, if memory serves, were also spiced up by new music by Carmine Coppola after having none of that in Part III. Scenes like Mary questioning Michael about her engagement and the family's financial obligations, and Michael talking to Kay in his hospital bed, were made more tender and engaging thanks to the extra music, which I found soft, mellow, and never hijacking the scenes.
Of course, while I'm still thinking about The Godfather Saga as a whole, I feel like I ought to bring up how the trilogy was meant to be seen. Back in 1990, the trilogy layout was:
The Godfather > The Godfather Part II > The Godfather Part III
With this arrangement, it would make you believe that Part III had something in store that would've added onto what Parts I and II already laid out with an equal amount of spectacle. Now, that's where I feel many people felt let down by Part III. They were expecting it to be another flawless chapter in The Godfather saga, but it ended up being anything but flawless. When we look at this lineup, however…
The Godfather > The Godfather Part II > The Godfather Coda
…it implied that the saga knew precisely where it needed to end while also feeling compelled to add something new and somewhat satisfactory into the mix. Part III felt like it never meant to be more subdued than the first two films. However, Coda felt like it was never ashamed to be, as far as its placement in the trilogy was concerned. This kind of Godfather Trilogy didn't care what kind of trilogy it was as long as it knew the story it wanted to tell, and I respect that entirely.
I will admit that some of my recapping of scenes that made more sense stemmed partially from watching the movie again for extra clarity. Meanwhile, as I demonstrated to you, the others were indeed scenes I noticed felt different from how they were in Part III.
But all in all, I'd say that Francis Ford Coppola did right by The Godfather Coda, a new cut that ironically feels a little worthier of the title The Godfather Part III. For every problem it didn't manage to fix, it fixed everything else with surprisingly very little. It demonstrates how even the slightest repositioning and editing can add or take away a lot for the movie's benefit. What we got from that effort is a Godfather Part III that is clearer, leaner, and maybe even a little more dignified than how it started out.
If The Godfather Part III is an offer you can refuse, then The Godfather Coda is what I'd call a counteroffer that's too tempting to refuse.
My Rating: A low B+