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Review – The Godfather Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone

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Francis Ford Coppola has re-edited the final chapter of his Godfather trilogy and re-titled it as The Godfather Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone. The film follows Michael Corleone in the autumn of his life as he attempts to withdraw his family’s interests in all things illegal and find redemption for the dreadful crimes he has committed throughout his life. But business partners, both old and new alike attempt to thwart his quest for legitimacy and forgiveness as the spectre of violence and tragedy is never far away.

When Coppola released his re-edit of Apocalypse Now Redux, significant changes were made such as the lengthening of Kilgore’s involvement and the insertion of the French plantation sequence. Regardless of the merit these changes brought, they were significant changes to the film that justified a re-release. It is difficult to see where the significance is in the changes to the final chapter of The Godfather trilogy. The film now begins with a scene that took place further on in the original version, which informs Michael Corleone’s opening motivations slightly and the final scene has a slightly different ending. Beyond this, the film is by and large the same and it is difficult to see the justification for a grand and overlong new title.

It does provide a good excuse to revisit and re-evaluate a film that was much maligned when originally released. Sofia Coppola’s casting as Mary Corleone, Michael’s daughter was a controversial choice after Winona Ryder left the role and her performance came in for heavy criticism on an almost universal basis. But her performance doesn’t jar as much as one might expect, her character’s connection with her father is palpable and the forbidden romance with Vincent (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone (James Caan) is tender and endearing. The film’s real weaknesses lie elsewhere such as Paramount’s refusal to meet Robert Duvall’s monetary demands. This forced the Tom Hagen character to be written out altogether and replaced by George Hamilton’s less significant character. Michael Corleone is left without his closest adviser and moral sounding board. Vincent’s character arc feels rushed as he goes from hot-headed enforcer to cold and calculating head of the family at the drop of a hat and Joe Montegna is miscast as Joey Zasa, the menacing rival mob boss. His performance comes across as light and almost a parody of the role he was meant to play.

Talia Shire, Coppola’s sister in reality, is marvellous as Connie. Her character is now far more actively involved in the Corleone business, the cold beating heart of the family and the one ready to ‘go the mattresses.’

Al Pacino puts in a good performance as the ageing, guilt wrapped Michael. But in comparison to the career-defining performances in parts 1 & 2 the weight of expectation could never be met, which is ultimately what the film suffers from. A 16-year gap between parts 2 & 3 is time for the first two films to become the stuff of Hollywood legend. The weight of expectation becomes insurmountable and the end result could never live up to our collective hopes. The Godfather Part III is a very good film, just nowhere near as good as the first two. The Godfather Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone, as a ‘new version’ feels redundant. A restoration would have achieved just as much in introducing these films to a new generation of fans along with giving the rest of us a good excuse to watch them yet again.

Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is in select cinemas from 5th & 6th December and will be available on Blu-ray and to Download & Keep on the 8th December, 2020.

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