With this recut of The Godfather, Part III, now retitled as Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo originally intended, the filmmakers’ intentions are drawn into clearer focus.
The Production: 4.5/5
It’s amazing the difference a name can make.
As a title, The Godfather, Part III offers a certain promise. It presents the expectation of a ruthless Michael Corleone center stage, waging war to protect his business at all costs, focused on The Family as much or more than his own family. After two highly successful films carrying the title, it’s understandable that an audience would come to expect the familiar and be turned off by the uncertain. It’s even more understandable that an audience would be confused by a film whose makers had no intention of continuing in that vein, which is why director/writer Francis Ford Coppola and author Mario Puzo wished to call their film The Death Of Michael Corleone, an idea that Paramount Pictures rejected in 1990. In requiring a more traditional title for a sequel, Paramount wanted to focus as many eyeballs on the film as possible for its Christmas Day release, but what Paramount had apparently not considered was that those eyes would be looking for the wrong things in the film they were seeing. For years, Coppola’s effort towards making a quieter, more personal epilogue to a work he had created in his youth was mistaken for a missed swing at bombastic grandiosity.
Now christened The Godfather, Coda: The Death Of Michael Corleone, Coppola and Puzo’s intentions are finally drawn into focus. As early as the 2001 DVD commentary, Coppola had hinted at what this story was meant to mean and how it was meant to play out, but both the theatrical cut and even longer director’s cut tried too hard to fit this film into the mold of the earlier two, instead of allowing it to exist as its own entity. Now running about fifteen minutes shorter than the director’s cut (the version available on all previous disc releases), with scenes edited and rearranged, inclusive of a different opening and truncated ending, the film is allowed to be what it always should have been. It’s a smaller but richer picture, a beautifully elegiac look at the end of life filled with poor choices whose consequences reverberate deeply through everything Michael Corleone has ever touched. In a sense, taking this kind of look at a character that many previously viewed as an admirable hero was a risky choice, but it’s one that pays off.
As The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II showed earlier, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) began life at a distance from his father’s crime empire, spending his youth charting his own course. But for all of Michael’s intelligence and good intentions, at every moment when he was faced with the choice of making the moral choice, the legal choice, the choice that would have preserved the family he created with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), Michael chose to immerse himself deeper into his father’s crime empire, expanding it far beyond his father’s imagination over the course of his reign. As he strove for greater respectability in the world, he discovered that supposedly straight businessmen and politicians were no less crooked than him, and used that disillusionment as justification for courses of action that led to the end of his marriage and the death of his brother Fredo.
In The Death Of Michael Corleone, those patterns continue to their ruinous ends. The choices of his youth are echoed in the actions of his children. His son Anthony (Frank D’Ambrosia) fears him, and just as a young Michael did not want to follow the path into politics that his father tried to lay out for him, Anthony does not want to be the lawyer that Michael hopes he will become. Michael believes that Anthony becoming a successful lawyer will give a new sheen to the Corleone name; ironically, by following his own path into the world of opera, Anthony does do for the family name what Michael had wished, and in the manner the younger Michael almost surely would have admired. Meanwhile, daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) becomes infatuated with Michael’s illegitimate nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia), the product of Michael’s late brother Sonny’s affair as seen in the first film. Vincent is all impulse and rage, much as Sonny was, and it is Vincent who presents Michael with an entry back into the world of crime which Michael ultimately cannot resist. It is Michael’s intention to partner with the Catholic Church on a business venture that he hopes will provide a kind of power and respectability that has been beyond even him, but his attempts to enter that world are no more pure than his prior ventures, and he soon finds himself in a kind of trouble that he cannot easily get himself out of. In addition to the weight of trying to find respectability through less than respectable means, Michael has also become a man of poor health, a far cry from his younger, seemingly invincible self. Meanwhile, his sister Connie (Talia Shire, in an under appreciated, powerful performance) has come into her own as a shrewd and ruthless tactician, ready to boldly leap into the fray where Michael might hesitate.
In the film’s key moment, a frail Michael finds himself at the Vatican, meeting with Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone), a man of true faith who offers Michael the chance to confess his sins and seek a path of redemption. While Michael does offer his confession in a moment of almost shocking vulnerability, the Cardinal tells him bluntly, “Your life could be redeemed, but I know you do not believe that. You will not change.” It is the Cardinal’s assessment that ultimately proves correct, and Michael’s inability to change that lead to his final punishment. Unable to be truly self reflective, unable to see how the choices he’s made in his life were just that, choices and not inevitabilities, Michael is doomed to make the same mistake one final time. But where Part I and Part II end in seeming triumph, here there is no victory, only loss. The man who says everything he ever did was for his family cannot bring himself to retire to a quiet life with them.
Much has been made over what wasn’t in the film, or rather, who: that Robert Duvall could not come to financial terms with the studio, and his Tom Hagen was written out in favor of a new character, B.J. Harrison (George Hamilton). More controversially, when Winona Ryder dropped out just as shooting was to begin, Coppola cast his daughter Sofia in the role of Michael’s daughter Mary. In hindsight, these choices have added to the film. The absence of the familiar and familial Duvall and substitution of the more businesslike Hamilton emphasize how much has changed since Michael’s glory days, and shows that while he speaks of the importance of family, his time is still taken up by other concerns. Similarly, Sofia Coppola’s take on Mary has been misunderstood, the innocence and immaturity she colors her portrayal of Mary with often mistaken for poor acting rather than deliberate choice. Mary is inexperienced and ill-equipped at her young age to handle her father’s chosen world, which is a jarring contrast to everyone else in the picture, but that’s the point. Neither of Michael’s children carry his strength or cunning, the qualities that lead Michael to his ruin. A more polished performance from a more seasoned performer might have detracted from the quality that the younger Coppola brings to her character.
Ultimately, whether it’s called The Death Of Michael Corleone or The Godfather, Part III, this is a film where a man we are used to seeing overcome all obstacles no longer can. Every move Michael makes fails in the end, something an audience might not have ever expected or wanted to see. This is a film about watching a man’s soul die while his body is cursed to live on. Deliberate, thoughtful and now finally in focus, The Death Of Michael Corleone is a worthy epilogue to The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II.
3D Rating: NA
As explained by resident expert Robert Harris, when the earlier Blu-ray of The Godfather, Part III had been created, the budget did not allow for returning to the original negative, and while that release was perfectly fine for what it was, it was somewhat of a step down in comparison to the near-flawless presentations of the first two films that initially came in the same package. All of that has been rectified here. For this release, Coppola’s company American Zoetrope has gone back to the original camera negative to create a brand new 4K master on which this Blu-ray release has been sourced. Framed at 1.85:1, the presentation here is a tremendous improvement over the previous release of The Godfather, Part III. Gordon Willis’ photography is stunningly rendered. Fine detail is in abundance, from the texture of the suits to the wind gently rustling the plants in the outdoor Italian sequences. Colors appear accurate without being overly saturated, while Willis’ trademark interaction of light and shadow is carefully preserved. The film has simply never looked better than it does here.
Presented in the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 format, the audio is surprisingly immersive for a film that’s more about quiet spaces than larger than life action. Many of the film’s scenes take place within church settings, and the expansiveness of those spaces is conveyed through the presence of echo in the surround channels. The earlier scenes set in New York City provide a rich, noisy soundscape, which is wonderfully contrasted by the more airy and open sounds of the rustic Italian locations which dominate the film’s latter half. The richness of Carmine Coppola’s score is also done justice in the mix. Dialogue is well recorded and easy to discern.
Optional English subtitles are also provided, and in a nice touch, are presented in the same font and color as the translation subtitles that are part of the film proper.
Special Features: 1.5/5
Introduction (1:31, HD) – Francis Ford Coppola offers a brief introduction, briefly explaining the new title and changes, while offering his gratitude to Paramount for the opportunity to revisit the film.
Digital Copy Code – The code can be redeemed at the user’s choice of one of the following three online storefronts: iTunes, Vudu and FandangoNow. The iTunes redemption includes an HD copy of The Death Of Michael Corleone, Coppola’s introduction, and an HD version of the longer director’s cut version of The Godfather, Part III.
The Death Of Michael Corleone finally allows Francis Ford Coppola to have final say over his Godfather saga. By returning to the title and focus that Coppola and Mario Puzo originally envisioned, this more concise edit of The Godfather, Part III brings the film back into focus as the story of a man who can no longer outrun a lifetime of sins. Tragic and elegiac, it may not have been the film that the audience expected, but one that nonetheless feels like the appropriate conclusion to the story of Michael’s life.
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