The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, review: Coppola fixes his greatest botch at last

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in the newly restored third Godfather film - Paramount Pictures
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire, Sofia Coppola, Diane Keaton, George Hamilton, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Donal Donnelly, Enzo Robutti. 15 cert, 158 min
The only problem with The Godfather: Part III that no post-processing can ever solve is that it's not The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II. In almost half a century since they were made, the first two panels of Francis Ford Coppola's great American triptych have lost no microjoule of their ferocity, size, and tragic-epic power. Coppola never intended that the troubled third episode - written and filmed at a breakneck date, about 15 years after the second was released - would be a sequel to the story, nor a full-length epilogue.
He and Mario Puzo, the author of the Godfather novels, even had a title that framed him as such: The Death of Michael Corleone. Since Hollywood marketing is what it is, the studio decided to go with "Part III" instead. In addition, it had to be sent to theaters before Coppola was satisfied that it had made total sense in editing his operatively augmented plot that included incest, cursed bloodlines, and snake conspiracies in the Vatican.
Thanks to Coppola's well-publicized decision to cast his (completely untrained) 18-year-old daughter Sofia - now an Oscar winner herself - in the key role of Mary Corleone, Michael's own teenage girl, she also came after the clear whiff of nepotism that became a focus for critical attacks.
The supposed failure of The Godfather: Part III has always been overrated. The contempt was tied in part to Coppola's own fall from commercial and critical mercy the previous decade, and in part with the nerve of not being another masterpiece.
But his unfulfilled promise - even on his own terms - must have irritated Coppola, and the director has now turned it into something that better suits his original intentions. Step one was to restore this unique talisman title: The film introduces itself with a card that says “The Godfather, Coda” and then gives itself a screen “The Death of Michael Corleone”.
The breadth of the plot remains largely unchanged from The Godfather: Part III. Al Pacinos now middle-aged Michael, with a granite gray crew cut that looks less ruffled than chiseled, seeks to win the Corleone family once and for all through a deal with the Catholic Church. But the ways of justice only lead him to darker valleys of gangsterism and corruption in Manhattan, Rome and finally to Sicily.
"Just when I thought I was out, pull me back in," is Pacino's most famous line, which the actor delivers with a growl that comes from the ground.
It lands all the more forcefully now, thanks to the gentler opening act that precedes it. The first hour of the film has been extensively rearranged, adding more agony to Michael's plight while also helping to clarify his subjects. (It also juices out the unrest its maneuvers create among its former co-workers, including Joe Mantegna's ambitious and excitingly uncomfortable Joey Zasa.)
The deal Michael made with Donal Donnelly's Archbishop Gilday of the Vatican Bank originally took place 40 minutes after the film started: this is now the opening scene and mirrors the sequence in the first Godfather film, in which Marlon Brandos played Don Vito in acts as a court in his study His daughter's wedding takes place outside. Coppola invites us to reflect on how far the Corleone family has come and how little has fundamentally changed.
Family portrait: In Part III, the Corleones are intertwined with the Catholic Church - Paramount
The now immediately apparent inevitability of these patterns makes Michael's quest for the redemption of the Corleone name all the more tragic as an entire portfolio of original sins comes back to haunt not only him but his innocent descendants as well. His son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) is an aspiring opera singer while Mary is the honorary chairman of the Vito Corleone Foundation - a nonprofit that aims to clean up the family line.
But here, too, the family line has other ideas than Michael's hot-headed illegitimate nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) enters into an incestuous relationship with Mary as he tries to shape the New York underworld.
Though the second half of the film is far less tinkering than the first, Sofia Coppola's infamous performance as Mary has been conspicuously recalibrated. Mary remains a clumsy, naive, and sometimes annoying presence - but now it's clear that this is simply the character and not the result of an acting ineptitude. Some awkward moments that could be read either way were cut off wisely, including a tantrum that was removed from her father and brother in Sicily.
The cost of this is a handful of awkward transitions, but these are well worth the price, and the climax of the movie at the Palermo Opera House can now be flinchingly enjoyed. This great, devastating sequence remains almost untouched, although Coppola has cheekily replaced a moment of violence with a jerky, graphic alternative shot. And there is a new, exciting echo of Martin Scorsese's The Irishman in the last few seconds of the film, which has been subtly but powerfully reworked to make the series "repeated blessings for longevity", "Cent'anni" - Italian for "one hundred Years "to turn - into a kind of existential hex.
Together, the changes feel final: to make equivalence with Apocalypse Now, this is a Final Cut as opposed to a Redux and a justification for its director after 30 years. Salvation may have escaped Michael Corleone, but his third film was luckier.
In cinemas on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th December and on Blu-ray from 7th December

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