To paraphrase Michael Corleone himself, just when you think you’re out, he pulls you back in.
Yes, much like the tinkering Francis Ford Coppola applied to his 1984 crime drama The Cotton Club last year, the auteur has now turned his scissors to 1990’s polarising mob epic The Godfather Part III. Always the least loved of the trilogy – largely on account of the other outings being two of the greatest films ever made – here he’s cut around 20 minutes of flab from what was a very portly movie. He’s also reworked the intro, lobbed a load of the boring papal ceremony stuff in the bin and tweaked the ending too. And there’s a new name: The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
- Read more: Diane Keaton says watching recut Godfather: Part III was “one of the best moments of my life”
Truth is, Coppola and co-writer Mario Puzo always intended the third Godfather film to be the end of the franchise, reluctantly complying with the studio’s preferred branding, who had plans on continuing the run into a fourth and fifth instalment. This new cut rights those wrongs, offering finality to the Michael Corleone story where once there was ambiguity. A shorter run time, and some restructuring of scenes, also makes for a far more entertaining watch. The beginning of the plot is arrived at much sooner, while the new opening sequence – which sees Michael (a salt and pepper-haired Al Pacino) meet the corrupt Vatican banker (Donal Donnelly) – now echoes the legendary opening to the first film, from 1972, where Michael’s father Vito (Marlon Brando) takes requests for his services, shrouded by the shadows of his ornate office.
Coppola has said that his edit here is personal, not just artistic. His teenage daughter Sofia – now a directorial whizz the equal of her father – took much of the scorn directed at his original cut when it was first released. Coppola has spoken of the emotional toil it took on his young offspring. Drafted in last minute to play the role of Mary Corleone after Winona Ryder dropped out, accusations of nepotism were aimed at both father and daughter. And yet the edit doesn’t do as much to showcase her merits as the passage of time. Her portrayal of the character, lusting after her – eek! – first cousin Vincent (a dashing Andy Garcia) is the beating heart of a bleak tale. 30 years on, a rewatch reveals a uniquely tender performance.
Of course, there’s only so much you can polish a piece of coal. The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone remains the worst Godfather movie on account of the story not being as good, the performances and script not being of the same quality, the absence of Brando, and a strangely languid performance by Pacino, the film’s leading man. And yet this cut does reposition the coda – which it should be said, is far too long still to be a coda, but that’s semantics – as an essential piece of filmmaking. Do make the effort to watch an old dog taught new tricks. It’s really an offer that you can’t refuse.
- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- Starring: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia
- Release date: December 5 (select cinemas), December 8 (Blu-ray, download and keep)