MARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER CODA: THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE (2020 re-edit) – That title is almost as awkward as Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? starring Anthony Newley and Joan Collins. In December Francis Ford Coppolla’s re-edited version of The Godfather Part III: The Death of Michael Corleone became available for viewing. This was done to mark the 30th anniversary of the original release of the much-criticized third installment of the Godfather franchise.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this item, but I’m happy to say that I found it to be an improvement of the 1990 version. Coppolla went with different takes on some scenes, trimmed a few and repositioned others, resulting in much better pacing.
I agreed with almost all of the cuts, like getting rid of the “ironic sledgehammer over the head” moment when Eli Wallach’s Don Altobello piously says “Blessed are the peacemakers” after setting up a face-to-face meeting between Vincent and Lucchesi.
One cut I did NOT like came in the shortening of Michael’s sorrowful remarks beside the coffin of Don Tommasino. In their entirety those remarks captured Michael’s inability to understand why Don Tommasino was loved while he himself was always feared. The full scene also captured Michael’s grief over the way that his old ally’s death complicated his own immediate plans.
One of the biggest problems with Godfather Part III cannot be removed, however – Sofia Coppolla’s poor performance as Michael’s daughter Mary Corleone. Yes, I know she has since proven to have a certain level of talent herself, like with her cult show High Octane and her subsequent directorial efforts, but she is way too awkward in this movie.
Sofia is such a lame actress that I still can’t help but laugh when her character gets shot at the end. The only line she’s given to say after that is “Dad?” but her bizarre delivery ruins even that. She pronounces that one lone syllable with such a hint of Valley Girl in it that it sounds like it should be spelled “Dhahd?” I half-expect her to follow it up by asking “Why are they shooting me, guyyyy?”
At any rate, she still serves as an anchor dragging down every scene she’s in, so no reshuffling of scenes can make up for that. Winona Ryder, of course, was originally cast as Mary but dropped out before filming began. Maybe future technology will allow for “thespian patches” which let entirely different performers get seamlessly superimposed over the originals.
The meat of the re-edit job centers around the central theme: the Vatican Bank-Mafia scandals from the 1970s and 1980s and Michael’s ongoing attempts to make his family “legit.” The reshuffling really helps with that, right from the opening, as a meeting between Michael Corleone and Archbishop Gilday is now the very first scene of the movie.
I don’t want to spoil the newly-edited ending, but it is a text book representation of how even a few moments cut from a scene can entirely change the emphasis.
Luckily, none of the changes harmed the aforementioned central theme, which was always the best part of Godfather III. Going back to the original novel in 1969, both Michael and his father Vito before him held the naive view that there was a societal level that the Corleone family could climb to where everything would be played above-board and legally.
Not so. As Michael observed in Part III, the higher up you go in social strata, the MORE crooked it becomes, not less crooked. It’s just that at those levels the malefactors control so much money and so many levers of power that they can mask themselves in the illusion of legitimacy, respectability and honesty. The tighter compression of scenes in this re-edit brings greater clarity to that theme.
As for the rest of the movie, Coppolla did not fall into the trap of trying to fix things that weren’t broken. Everything that viewers loved about the flawed 1990 version is still there, including the masterfully written roles of Andy Garcia as Vincent Mancini/ Corleone and Joseph Mantegna as Joey Zasa, the John Gotti/ Crazy Joe Gallo/ Joseph Colombo composite character.
With the fat trimmed and with its better pacing, THIS has now become for me the definitive version of the third segment of the Godfather Saga. It’s still not a 10 out of 10 of course, but I would put this improved product at 7, up from the 5 that I used to rate it. +++
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