Film Reviews

Film Review: The Godfather, Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone

Alex Watkin

The Godfather Part III (1990) has never been a terrible film, but it is a terrible sequel. With The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, Francis Ford Coppola has returned to the editing room to tinker with his original film.

Coppola attempts to get closer to his self-proclaimed original vision and as a result redeem the film in the eyes of many viewers. The alterations on paper are minor; there is no new footage, just a rearrangement of existing scenes. Except for the beginning and ending, most of the film remains indistinguishable from the original. I was doubtful Coppola would be able to fix Part III in any meaningful way, however, much helped by the new enlightening title, Coppola has managed to completely re-contextualise the film. It now has improved clarity of purpose, which I always felt the original completely lacked. But, whether this results in the new version being anymore worthwhile as part of the larger Godfather narrative is debatable.

My issue with Part III is that I’ve always felt it rewrites the ending of The Godfather Part II (1974). Of course there is forever the danger with sequels that the audience is left disenfranchised and dejected; it’s almost impossible for a sequel to continue coherently from all our individual and personal interpretations of the previous film. Nevertheless, when our interpretation isn’t aligned with the sequel’s, we do not enjoy the film and our experience with its predecessor is cheapened. 

Much helped by the new enlightening title, Coppola has managed to completely re-contextualise the film

The obligatory party scene at the beginning of Part III is a complete cinematic whiplash; its tones betray the sombre repercussions of the previous film’s exceptional ending. This original version never helps itself either; the melancholy shots returning us to the ruins and abandonment of the old house tauntingly teased the type of film I expected after Part II.

Within the subsequent moments of the original cut, we are presented with Michael Corleone’s letter that asks for forgiveness from his family. This has always felt like an obvious lazy attempt to backtrack to a status quo more familiar. This type of cinematic technique was never used, nor was it ever needed in the previous two films. Within the first five minutes of Part III there is a plummet in quality, which it never recovers from.

Coda is unable to solve Part III’s general sense of reduced quality. It remains just as shouty and as loud as ever. However, it does manage to make me slightly more onboard with its premise. The letter and party scenes remain, but before them Coppola has placed Michael’s meeting at the Vatican with Arch Bishop Gilday, which originally happened around 40 minutes into the film. This places a greater emphasis on Michael being self-aware of the hopelessness of his situation in the following scenes, which originally were far too cheery.

The ending of the film is the most obvious change to the original’s story and I won’t spoil it here. However, I will say it is a definite improvement as it actually makes some sort of sense now. As a singular piece, Coda feels more cohesive, but in context the new ending highlights the film’s repetition of Part II. It isn’t exactly the same; the ending here is a little more bittersweet. But Coda definitely won’t change the mind of those who have always believed there is no more story to tell after the second film.

As a singular piece, Coda feels more cohesive, but in context the new ending highlights the film’s repetition of Part II

If the new title (Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone) is considered, the repetition is potentially interesting. Coppola doesn’t see this as the third film of a trilogy, instead he propagates it as a ‘summing up’ of the two films, hence the new appendage coda. Viewing the film in this light, it certainly quashes some of my criticisms and alleviates other critiques surrounding further tedious scenes echoing the first two films.

Coppola’s achievement in re-contextualising Part III with The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone shouldn’t be ignored. It re-confirms that the smallest cinematic alterations can have major repercussions on the success of an overall piece – a testament to cinema’s capabilities as an art form. However, perhaps surprisingly, I would still choose to ignore Coda when revisiting the Godfather films. Maybe with time to settle, I will be able to see the value in a ‘summing up’ of these films, but currently it feels almost as unnecessary as the original Part III.

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of Roey Ahram via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @francisfordcoppola_ via No changes made to these images.

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