Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 1, 2020)
30 years after The Godfather Part III debuted, director Francis Ford Coppola brings us an altered version. Now titled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, the 2020 update makes a smattering of changes.
Whereas the version of the film on the Blu-ray linked above goes for two hours, 50 minutes, 15 seconds, Coda runs two hours, 37 minutes, 55 seconds. Note that the prior release didn’t offer the movie’s theatrical cut either.
Instead, the Blu-ray – and prior DVD – brought a “Director’s Cut” that ran about eight minutes longer than the theatrical version. This means Coda goes for about 13 minutes less than the “DC” and four minutes shorter than the 1990 theatrical rendition.
Because I already reviewed Part III multiple times, I’ll skip my plot synopsis and overall movie review. For those interested, please choose the link at this article’s start.
To summarize my opinion of Part III, it brings a decent but flawed film, partly because it just doesn’t connect to the world of Godfather well. It also tells a not especially interesting story and suffers from some iffy performances.
For this review, my primary concern becomes the changes made for Coda and how they impact the film’s success. If you don’t want to learn specifics about the alterations, please skip to the picture and audio part of this article.
We find a change literally at the movie’s opening, as the scene in which Michael receives the Catholic honor gets cut. However, don’t expect the “new beginning” that the film’s PR claims.
Instead, Coda takes the sequence between Michael and Archbishop Gilday and simply moves it. Whereas that segment appeared at 39:29 on the Part III Blu-ray, it now becomes our introduction to the story.
This turns into a moderately good change, as it lightly echoes the opening to the first Godfather. While not an overt homage, it reminds us of how Don Corleone granted favors, so it feels like a spiritual cousin to the 1972 flick’s beginning.
Note that the scene in which Michael gets his honor never appears in the film. It becomes a total omission.
After this, Coda tends toward minor trims for much of its running time. These small cuts include:
-Michael and Mary discuss the foundation.
-Vincent discusses killing Zasa with Connie.
-Recuperating Michael meets with Don Altobello.
-Mary’s reaction when Michael tells her not to see Vincent.
-Don Tommasino gets out of a car.
-Michael at Tommasino’s coffin.
-Flashbacks to younger Michael after Mary’s death.
Coda may come with a few more tiny trims that I missed. I couldn’t run the two versions literally side by side so I flipped between them often, and this meant I might’ve not seen a few seconds of cuts here or there.
We also get occasional alternate lines. For instance, when Mary refuses Michael’s order to stay away from Vincent, she exclaims “no!” loudly twice in the prior version, whereas in Coda, she says “no” quietly just once.
Note that Coda adds some small bits as well. For instance, during the executions toward the film’s finale, we find more graphic violence than in the prior version.
Coda also promises a new ending, and it gives us one – sort of. We still find an elderly Michael on his own in a courtyard, but – despite this version’s title – Michael does not die.
In the prior version, a sad old Michael literally falls off his chair and collapses dead. Here. Michael puts on his sunglasses and we cut to text that reads “When the Sicilians wish you ‘Cent’anni’… it means ‘for long life’ … and a Sicilian never forgets”.
Alrighty then! It’s certainly a more ambiguous ending, one that hints elderly Michael might still have some tricks up his sleeve and he may pursue revenge for Mary’s death.
Maybe. While I like ambiguous endings, this one seems more frustrating than intriguing, as it finishes the movie on an oddly incomplete note – especially given the movie’s title.
Yes, we can assume Coppola means Michael “died” of heartbreak when his life of sin caused Mary’s actual death. Nonetheless, our final image of elderly Michael makes him look…. well, not robust but not beaten down and defeated.
I took that image from the original Part III: Michael suffered a mental breakdown after Mary’s death until he finally died a lonely, pathetic old man. We don’t get the same impression from Coda.
Not that I’ll claim Coda makes elderly Michael seem vigorous, but he lacks the same feeble sense that we see in Part III. As Michael dons his shades, it almost feels like he wants to tell us “I’m back, baby”, and the tease about how Sicilians “never forget” seems to imply he plans his revival.
Did Coppola intend these notions? Probably not, but who knows? The ending seems so vague that it becomes completely open to interpretation, and my sense leans toward a renewed Michael.
Which makes no sense in the scheme of everything that happened in the prior two hours, 29 minutes, of course. The Part III ending seems much more logical in that context, whereas “puttin’ on my shades” Michael doesn’t quite fit.
I guess perhaps the ending intends to imply that Michael will live a long life and also suffer from the painful memory of Mary’s death over an extended period. However, the Part III finale already leaves that impression, so the more vague conclusion to Coda doesn’t give the character a meaningful fate.
Outside of the unsatisfying ending, I think Coda works marginally better than Part III. Because it runs less time, it doesn’t wear out its welcome to the same degree.
Also, it certainly helps that I watched Coda on its own. When I viewed the film in the past, it always followed the first two movies, and it suffered by comparison. Screened solo, the contrast seems less obvious, and the film fares better.
Nonetheless, the flaws of Part III remain. The plot and characters still don’t seem well-rendered or particularly interesting, and various lackluster performances don’t get better.
Al Pacino still overacts, and Sofia Coppola continues to show an utter inability to create a decent performance. After she saw Coda, Diane Keaton opined that audiences would rethink their criticisms of Sofia’s work, but at least this viewer finds no reason to reappraise her work. Sofia continues to deliver a wholly wooden, amateurish turn.
Francis Ford Coppola wants us to believe that Coda substantially alters and improves Part III, but he’s wrong. Coda offers a very similar experience, as the director’s nibbling around the edges doesn’t fix its problems.
Footnote: even though Coda got released in 2020, I called it a 1990 movie because that accounts for the release of the original Godfather Part III. Despite some 2020 tinkering, this remains a 1990 project, so it’d feel weird to call it a 2020 production.