“Just When I Thought I was Out…”
by Jeff Bowles
There are few more legendary films than The Godfather and at least one of its two sequels. The American Film Institute named Part I the third most important movie of all time, coming in behind only Casablanca and Citizen Kane. The Godfather Part II is held up by many as a true cinematic masterpiece, superior to the first in every way, with a richness and depth rarely found in Hollywood films.
And then there’s The Godfather Part III, largely considered the weakest in the series, if not one of the weakest closing chapters of any film franchise, period. It suffered from a jumbled and imprecise development cycle, very nearly crumbling under the weight of its own narrative legacy. Originally released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was overly operatic, self-reverential, far too dependent on its own aging formula. Some casting missteps didn’t help matters either, nor did a story that had little of the depth or urgency of the previous two films.
Now, thirty years later, director and co-writer Francis Ford Coppola has resurrected The Godfather Part III with a new title and a new cut that is leaner, more focused, slightly (very slightly) different in tone and subtext, and essentially, not all that much better than it was three decades ago.
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (as it’s now known) may have an insanely verbose title, but let’s face it, the original cut was an odd duck anyway. Admittedly, it’s not such a bad movie to revisit. Michael Corleone and his supporting cast are some of the best drawn and most acutely emotional film characters of all time. And yet, shifting a few elements around and cutting a bit of bulk does not storytelling redemption make. The movie looks fantastic due to a new remaster and a simultaneous limited theatrical release alongside blu-ray and home streaming options. And yes, the deeper themes explored by the series as a whole stand in slightly starker and clearer relief than they did previously. But only if you’re seriously paying attention, because really, this is basically the same movie with a longer title.
Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is a different man than the angry, murderous mafia don who ordered the death of his own brother in Part II. The truth is, Michael thinks he can buy his way into Heaven. Good deeds, charitable works, liquidating all non-legitimate assets and operations, cozying up to the church, becoming a better father. Family and the breakdown of familial bonds is one of the key themes of the entire series, and Michael’s family has been broken for years. His ex-wife, Kaye (played by the always wonderful Diane Keaton) dreads him and the bad memories that still plague her, and his two adult children love but barely trust him. Don Corleone wants out, but as his famous line of dialogue goes, just when you think you’re out … well, you know the rest.
The film benefits from increased contextual musculature and sinew, and the “new’ beginning and end aren’t so much new as better placed and/or better executed. Is it reason enough to watch all three in marathon fashion? Sure, why not? In the age of pandemic lockdowns, who’s to say what movie night can look like. As far as Coppola is concerned, The Godfather Part III was poorly named anyway. A coda, in musical terms, is a concluding passage that summarizes main themes and very often offers a sort of flourishing resolution. The Godfather, Coda does that in a way, but again, if you haven’t seen the original cut in years, it’s doubtful you’ll notice much difference.
Even still, time has a way of making old things shine. The first two films have aged remarkably well, and the series simply wouldn’t feel the same without an ambitious but clunky concluding chapter.
When it comes to The Godfather, Coda, you may want to leave the gun and take the cannoli, if you don’t mind the dumb Clemenza reference, but if you’re at all interested in what this new version brings to the table, there’s certainly worse mob stories to binge at home on a Saturday afternoon. I mean seriously. Netflix again, dear?
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone a Seven out of Ten.
Look at how they massacred my boy!
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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