The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone review
“The musical term coda is sort of like an epilogue, a summing up, and that’s what we intended the movie to be”. Francis Ford Coppola’s opening speech before The Godfather Coda (the newly titled and re-edited The Godfather III) provides an interesting look into the mindset of the esteemed director as he justifies his re-entry back into the world of The Godfather.
Having seen The Godfather and it’s (almost) equally extraordinary second entry, I was going into The Godfather Coda completely blind – at least to the extent that I was not aware of the plot. What I was aware of, was the reputation it holds in filmic history: a missed third step in a glittering franchise, one which had racked up countless awards, the first two entries considered to be amongst the very best that film has to offer. There seems to be a general consensus that The Godfather III just isn’t worth the watch, as not to taint the seemingly flawless impression left by its darling older brothers.
So, how does The Godfather Coda actually hold up? I think it’s fair to say that it’s a mixed bag. There are many scenes in the film which evoke the same blend of unmistakable melodrama and style as the other films in the series, along with some truly excellent performances.
Despite taking place 20 years after The Godfather II, Coda continues many of its central themes, with a strong emphasis on fatherhood and family, which form the emotional aspects of the story. I found some of the most engaging moments to revolve around the intertwining themes of guilt and religion, which contained the best expressions of a true ‘coda’. Michael Corleone, the patriarch, more rich and influential than ever, toils in his conscience over his reprehensible actions during his rise to power. The plot sees him making multi-million dollar deals with the shady head of the Vatican Bank, to negotiating his relationship with his estranged wife and children.
The scenes between Michael and his wife Kay are some of the most affecting scenes in the whole trilogy, with Al Pacino and Diane Keaton giving brilliantly convincing performances as once infatuated lovers turned exhausted divorcees. Another highlight of the film for me was Andy Garcia, who plays the long dead Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son Vincent Mancini. Garcia gives an assured and charismatic performance as wildcard Mancini, fizzing off the screen in every scene. He plays Mancini with a frenzy akin to a young Pacino, and a suaveness reminiscent of De Niro’s Vito Corleone, a truly accomplished performance.
However, there are also a number of serious missteps which threaten to derail the film entirely, recut or not. The main narrative, whilst thoroughly engaging in parts, falls somewhat short, particularly during the meandering second act, which contains a couple of scenes which wouldn’t look out of place in a Scarface rip-off.
Sofia Coppola, whilst now an excellent director, looks wildly out of her depth here, faring poorly against her famous co-stars. Her interactions with cousin and love interest Mancini are excruciating, made even harder to watch due to the distinct lack of chemistry between the two, which overshadows any attempt at developing their relationship past surface level. Considering her importance to the story, Coppola’s performance is a genuine drawback to the film. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering what a superior actress (such as Winona Ryder, who dropped out last minute) could have added to the film.
I also found the plot often lost its footing during the various scenes detailing the dealings between the business arm of the Corleones, the Mafia, and the Vatican. There is a distinct lack of direction in these scenes – perhaps the presence of franchise veteran Robert Duvall, who refused his part due to wage conflicts, may have helped to remedy this.
Along with an unnecessarily overlong final sequence and a disappointingly anti-climatic last scene, The Godfather Coda is far from the triumphant send-off that many fans would have liked. The minor edits and four minutes shaved off the original cut clearly do little to ease some of the larger issues which have plagued the third entry since its release.
However, despite Coda’s host of problems, I still feel as though it is more than worthy of a watch. Whilst the narrative is nowhere as strong as its predecessors, The Godfather Coda contains enough in the way of captivating performances, and operatic, theatrical set pieces, to earn its rightful place as a reasonably satisfying ‘coda’: one that acts as an unnecessary, but an ultimately entertaining footnote to two of the greatest films ever made.