After seeing so many notices about how the new edit of The Godfather: Part III — now titled Maria Puzo’s The The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone — was an improvement on the version first released thirty years ago on Christmas Day 1990, I find myself a bit surprised to say that I prefer the original.
I should also emphasize, however, that the difference between the two is negligible.
Aside from a dramatic change in how the film begins (which takes a scene that originally appeared 40 minutes into the film and now makes it the Coda‘s opener, while also cutting the 1990 opener completely from this new edit), the Godfather Coda is, essentially, the same movie that Part III was, save for a few other cosmetic nips, tucks, and scene shifts, including a rather dramatic tweak to how the film ends. (Coda is actually 7 minutes shorter overall.)
As a result, both films essentially achieve the same effect, just in slightly different fashions.
To be sure, this final chapter in either form is not equal to the masterpieces of the two that preceded it. Director and co-writer Francis Ford Coppola appeared to have lost a step in the intervening years, perhaps revisiting the Corleone saga less out of artistic obsession and more from a need to settle some debts of his own.
The third Godfather isn’t always as clever, subtle, or poetic as the first two epics (but then, few films are) nor is it quite as aesthetically sophisticated, even as it elegantly recreates the palette. The trilogy’s virtues are still there but now they’re muted into formula. That’s more true of the film’s first half than the second (both in the Original and the Coda) as it tries a bit too hard to be a Godfather movie.
Even so, Andy Garcia is a fierce, charismatic force as Sonny Corleone’s hothead bastard son, making himself an essential addition to the canon. Talia Shire’s Connie is finally given more layers, too; ruthless, cold, and calculating, decisive with her own agency, and it’s an arc that carries all the way through to the finale.
It’s in the second half that this final chapter truly becomes its own thing, i.e. the lamenting, reflective, tragic Coda that it is billed to be, crescendoing to its “settling of accounts” climax that’s literally operatic.
It’s anchored by Michael’s Vatican confessional, an essential moment for Michael’s arc and for the saga as a whole. It’s sad and powerful, and one of Al Pacino‘s best screen moments. That scene alone necessitates and validates the existence of Part III.
The second half is also when the movie actually starts to feel more personal for Coppola, not only as a reflection on regrets and sins that paid for a glamorous life, but also in the conflicted relationship to the Catholic Church. One senses that Coppola shares Michael’s feelings for the church, both his concerns and hopes, believing in its core holiness, idealism, and ability to absolve and renew, while also struggling with its hypocrisies, corruptions, and sins.
The change to the ending is, editorially, the slightest massage, but the tweak also renders it profoundly different. Without spoiling it, the new Coda close chooses to emphasize the burden of how the life that Michael chose to live will always haunt him. The point is well-made, even pointedly and poetically, but again, without spoiling either version, I’ll simply say that I favor the original.
I’ve always felt that The Godfather: Part III was underrated and unduly-panned (please, we need hotter takes than “Sofia Coppola was awful!”). Given the legacy of its predecessors, Part III had impossible expectations to live up to when it debuted in 1990. Plus, it had the misfortune of opening just two months after Martin Scorsese‘s masterpiece Goodfellas.
And so, it’s with welcome satisfaction to see Part III finally get its due. Sure, I may prefer the original and find the Coda to be little more than an interesting exercise, but if it helps increase the appreciation that Part III has always deserved, then I’m grateful that this Coda exists.