What’s Different in the New Version of ‘The Godfather, Part III’?
Earlier this month Francis Coppola released a re-cut of The Godfather, Part III in honor of its 30th anniversary in 2020. But did the new version, called Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, fix the original's problems?
The director said in a statement at the time, “I created a new beginning and ending, and rearranged some scenes, shots, and music cues. With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion to The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.” He would later tell CBS This Morning that he felt this new version of the film would “vindicate” the final installment, especially his daughter Sofia’s infamous performance as Mary Corleone.
This was welcome news for both Godfather and film fans because, well, The Godfather, Part III isn’t a very good movie. Coming up with a satisfying conclusion to any beloved story is difficult (just ask the people who made The Sopranos), but even more difficult when the two prior chapters are among the best movies ever made. For a variety of reasons, The Godfather, Part III never lived up to its predecessors and its stigma of damaging what should have been the best trilogy ever made has always gnawed at Coppola. This was a welcome opportunity for him to right the wrongs.
So what exactly has changed, and was it worth it? Let’s take a closer look at Coppola's changes from the original cut to this new version and you can decide whether it’s worth another shot.
First off, if you’re looking for more of the Godfather saga, you’re going to be a little disappointed. The Coda release is actually shorter than the original by four minutes. You’ll immediately notice a difference when you start the film. Instead of the flashback to the Lake Tahoe compound where Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) brother Fredo (John Cazale) was killed at the end of Part II, it begins with the scene where Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) asks Michael for money, which didn’t arrive until about 40 minutes into the movie.
This decision helps the audience make sense of the at-times confusing Vatican plot and sets it in motion much quicker and with more urgency. (The establishing shot of New York City in the late-'70s, complete with the Twin Towers, has been removed entirely.) We then hear Michael’s voiceover as he writes a letter to his daughter Mary and his son Tony (Franc D'Ambrosio).
There are a few brief cuts from the film, namely - as stated above - Michael flashing back to Fredo’s death while receiving the Order of Saint Sebastian honor from the church and some of Mary’s more stilted dialogue from the balcony scene with Vincent (Andy Garcia). While the edits improve Sofia's performance a bit, Coda is not going to start a major reevaluation of her skills as an actor. Sofia unfairly received the bulk of the criticism when the film was originally released - she was an inexperienced last-minute replacement for Winona Ryder - but has gone on to prove herself as one of the best indie directors.
Some additional small changes include being introduced to Vincent earlier in the film and cutting a scene between Vincent and Don Antobello (Eli Wallach). These mainly serve to tighten up the pacing of the film, which was one of the major complaints of the original.
A substantial change, however, comes at the end. Part III's finale, where Michael dies at Don Tommasino's villa years after the violent climax at the opera, has been removed. The sight of Michael slumping over in his chair has been replaced by a quote that reads, “When the Sicilians wish you ‘Cent’anni’… it means ‘for long life’ … and a Sicilian never forgets.” This would seem to hammer home the idea that Michael isn’t going to be free from suffering or grief for any time soon. He will have to live with the pain he has caused his family and loved ones for a very long life. Michael is alone and everyone has either betrayed him, left him or died because of his actions, and that’s a fate even worse than death.
But generally, Coda is mostly the same as The Godfather, Part III. It's neither a drastic reworking - similar to what Coppola did with Apocalypse Now Redux - nor does it lead one to believe that what was considered a disappointing conclusion to the trilogy is now a masterpiece. But it is an opportunity to revisit this controversial project through a new lens, now 30 years later, to see if this film can now live up to the legacy of those that came before it.
Watch the Trailer for The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone