For the last 30 years, The Godfather: Part III has felt like the bastard child of the Corleone trilogy. Sure, it's hard to live in the shadow of two of the greatest films of all time, and the movie definitely has been judged way harsher than others, but it's just been easy to dunk on it for the last 30 years.
I mean, how many other films could release to seven Academy Award nominations and live in infamy because the director was forced to cast his daughter at the last minute? Or because they have a plot about the corrupt Vatican?
And how many of those movies have an amazing helicopter attack scene?
Much has been written about the movie's strengths and weaknesses, but no one could have anticipated that the film's director, Francis Ford Coppola, would be able to go in and make the changes he wanted to 30 years ago and give us what he considers to be the finished product.
The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is not like the Snyder Cut of gangster films. There were no reshoots or digital additions of Tom Hagen. Instead, Paramount let Coppola go through all the old reels and assemble different openings and endings, and recut the movie into something he considers to be more interesting and cohesive.
Coppola’s revision runs a shorter 157 minutes and now opens with a scene in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Michael leverages the Catholic Church's debt to make himself one of the wealthiest men in the world.
He also delivers the theme of the movie, now highlighted upfront, as the archbishop says, “It seems in today’s world, the power to absolve debt is greater than the power to forgive.”
To which Corleone replies, “Never underestimate the power of forgiveness.”
If forgiveness is the theme of the film, it's also Coppola's theme for his re-edit.
Forgiveness to his daughter, who had to deal with so many hateful comments over her portrayal of Marty, forgiveness to Puzo, who didn't get the respect he deserved for the installment, and forgiveness to himself, for the way the movie was handled in 1990.
In a new retrospective in The New York Times, Coppola expands on all of these ideas. Now 81 years old, Coppola exudes wisdom and anecdotes about his career. From choosing to do the third film to get clout back after box office failures, to the living work that is the script... which he changed every day they were shooting.
Still, this is not a total lament. Part III grossed more than $136 million worldwide and was nominated for seven Oscars (although it won zero). The pain for Coppola came from the reviews that attacked his family.
"They wanted to attack the picture when, for some, it didn’t live up to its promise,” he says in the Times. “And they came after this 18-year-old girl, who had only done it for me."
The story he told in the movie provided an irresistible metaphor.
“The daughter took the bullet for Michael Corleone—my daughter took the bullet for me,” he says.
Still, this is a different sort of journey. There are not many changes to the movie outside of the opening scene and the end. The finale no longer shows Michael Corleone dying, but shows him serving a life of sorrow for his crimes. Atonement means nothing as he sits in his chair, staring off into the countryside.
As the scene fades to black, a series of title cards appear. They read, "When the Sicilians wish you ‘Cent’anni’ … it means ‘for long life.’ … and a Sicilian never forgets."
Coppola explains of Corleone, “In fact, for his sins, he has a death worse than death.”
He speculates that Corleone lives many years “past this terrible conclusion,” but he never forgets the horrible toll he had to pay.
Will we ever return to The Godfather universe again?
Coppola says, “Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t come to me and say, 'Hey, man, where’s Godfather IV?' I say, 'I’ll let you know when I get the call.'”
According to the article, that's delivered with a wink and a smile. I don't know that Paramount is ready to build on Coppola's vision, but in the era of remakes and reimagining, you never know where they could take it.
Credit: Paramount PicturesPuzo died in 1999, and any vision of what a fourth film might look like disappeared with him.
Whether or not there are more of those movies might be moot. Coppola seems finished with his vision and looking forward to what he can create next. Those movies forged his path in Hollywood and made him a household name.
It will be interesting to watch Coda this year and see its reception. I plan on rewatching the first two films right before the third, to make sure I am primed for the story.
Coppola's legacy will always be the ambitious films he gave us, but I wish we had more from him later in life, aside from the indies. He has always been a director ready to dare to break new ground.
Hopefully, this re-edit inspired a desire to make something new. I know I'll be waiting.
You can own it exclusively on Blu-ray and digital VOD on Dec. 8. You can see it in select theaters starting Dec. 4.
Let us know what you think in the comments.