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Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, The
I saw an article recently that declared, The Godfather: Part III was always worthy. I have to agree. Does it reach the heights of its two legendary predecessors, The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II? No, not quite, but Part III has always been a different kind of movie. Vito and Fredo Corleone are long dead, and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is an aged man trying to go legit for the sake of his family. The movie is less about mobsters in America than it is about corruption in Italy, with a sprawling story of financial deception at the highest levels of power. One of this year's few pleasant surprises is the release of a new edit of the film, The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which Director Francis Ford Coppola says represents his intended vision of the film. The edits are relatively subtle, but they do improve the flow of the film and earn back some of the urgency critics found it lacked upon release in 1990. Part III was always worthy; now, with Coda, perhaps it can earn a new generation of fans.
Set in 1979, decades after the events in previous films, Coda sees 59-year-old Michael, the head of the Corleone crime family, coming to terms with his life. Weighing heavily on his mind are his orders to assassinate his own brother, Fredo, and the way his ruthless reign of terror has alienated him from family. Michael looks toward legal business opportunities, hoping to build a respectable nest-egg for son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) and daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola). His $600-million donation to the Vatican is intended to cover the Vatican Bank's enormous deficit, but also place Michael in line to lead its lucrative international real-estate business, Internazionale Immobiliare. At a party in his honor, Michael's estranged wife Kay (Diane Keaton) tells him the contribution and papal recognition are "shameful," and Anthony declines an invitation to enter the family business, telling his father he is becoming an opera singer. Mary is enamored with Michael and leads his charitable foundation, but soon falls for Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Michael's other dead brother, Sonny, and an up-and-coming gangster feuding with local mob captain Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna). As Michael navigates the shark-infested waters of the American mob, corruption within the Vatican and across Italy threatens his intended acquisition of Vatican assets.
The biggest edit Coppola makes in Coda is opening the film with a negotiation between Michael and duplicitous Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) about the Vatican deal. This scene comes more than a half-hour into the theatrical cut, which opens with shots of locations from previous films, then moves to a papal ceremony honoring Michael before diving into the extended afterparty sequence where the family is re-introduced. This one swap corrects a criticism I have of the theatrical cut: That version seems to lack narrative urgency because you do not know what the conflict is going to be until well into the running time. The swap also makes the subsequent party scene much more effective; viewers understand what Michael is attempting to do, and the familial rebukes sting much harder. Losing the explicit flashbacks to previous films also establishes Coda as its own story, and Coppola has suggested that the Vito Corleone family story ended with Part II. Now, viewers can finally experience this narrative for what it is; a compliment to those films but not necessarily a conclusion.
There are minor trims throughout the film, which moves from violent mafia warfare in its early sequences thanks to hot-headed Vincent to an extended vacation for Michael in Italy as he recovers from a diabetic stroke. There, we witness corruption within a different venue, as forces plot to install a new pope and gain power over Vatican finances. Part III and Coda simply tell a different kind of story than previous Godfather films. It feels like a smaller story, but one that is nonetheless fascinating. The backstabbing and clandestine meetings in the halls of power all lead to an extended climax during Anthony's Italian operatic debut, where the fates of many characters are decided. This sequence could be considered almost too spot-on given the subject matter, but it unspools beautifully. Anyone expecting a happy ending for Michael should consider that Coppola and source author Mario Puzo punish the wicked in these films, and Michael pays dramatically for a life of sins. One of the other significant changes Coppola makes is in the film's final shot, which is now more subtle and satisfying. A title card digs in the knife and twists, reminding us "a Sicilian never forgets."
Like its theatrical iteration, Coda is not perfect, and I doubt these moderate if effective changes are going to completely convert someone who dislikes the film. Poor Sofia Coppola has been dragged over the coals for her performance in this film for years. She only appeared because Winona Ryder dropped out of the role due to illness. Francis Ford Coppola was under the gun to begin production, so he cast his daughter in this important role. In an emotional recent interview, Francis Ford Coppola notes that Mary's sacrifices in the film mirror Sofia Coppola's own in trying to help her father. Frankly, her performance is that of a teenager, which Sofia Coppola was during the shoot. Mary is slight and noncommittal, and makes rash, inappropriate decisions. The actress's delivery is hesitant and inconsistent, because she is a kid. Mary has little dialogue, but the film wants so badly to make the character part of the film's emotional core that any misstep in Sofia Coppola's performance feels worse than it is. The film also suffers for the lack of Robert Duval's Tom Hagen, Michael's adopted brother and Corleone consigliere. Duval failed to appear when producers did not meet his salary demands, and one wishes they had tried harder to bring the actor back into the fold.
Pacino's performance is excellent here. Michael is weary, burdened by his sins, and desperately trying to keep his relationships with family alive. This is not the mafia king Michael; this is Michael the broken man. Garcia also performs well and brings an intensity to early scenes that makes the subsequent violence he partially causes believable. Two of the female leads, Keaton and Talia Shire, also threaten to steal the show. Keaton's Kay is a strong moral compass for the film. This is a woman who has remained pure but stood by and sifted through the rubble caused by Michael for decades for any signs of life. She is fiercely devoted to her family and does not bow to Michael. Keaton's performance is quietly devastating and stands out here. Shire's Connie Corleone, sister to Michael, also shines in this film. She becomes entangled in the Vatican business because her own godfather, New York Mafia boss Don Altobello (Eli Wallach), wants a piece of the action. Connie makes decisive moves when Michael is nearly assassinated, proving herself a leader in the family. Her key involvement in the opera finale is bittersweet, forcing her to hurt someone she loves for the sake of her own family. The strong performances are complemented by Coppola's steady direction, and the film is beautifully lensed, with cinematography from Gordon Willis. The Godfather: Part III was always a good film. Coppola's new edit, The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, will not convert its staunch detractors, but it effectively improves the film in several key areas. A complement to two of the greatest films ever made, The Godfather, Coda is due for reconsideration.
Paramount releases Coda with a remastered 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image that is beautifully filmic and gorgeously detailed. The color timing has been altered from previous versions, giving the film a more natural, modern look instead of the brown-and-gold appearance of earlier entries. Fine-object detail is abundant, and close-ups reveal extraordinary texture on costumes and sets. The grain structure is natural and consistent, and the source material is steady and without flaw. Colors are lush and perfectly saturated, blacks are inky, and shadow detail is abundant in corridors of the Vatican and Michael's dimly lit office. Wide shots, particularly those in the gorgeous hills of Italy, stretch for miles, and contrast is excellent in these bright outdoor scenes. I noticed no issues with compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge halos. This is a beautiful transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is of similar quality. This is an engaging mix, and several sequences, including the hotel massacre and the opera finale, are absolutely immersive. Action effects pan the sound field and fire up the subwoofer, and more subtle effects are still perfectly audible and surround viewers. Dialogue is clean and crisp, and I noticed no issues with distortion or crowding. The score is also perfectly integrated and sounds deep and expansive. The disc includes 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Japanese, as well as a host of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. A digital copy code is included. The only extra is an Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (1:31/HD). Rumor has it that the entire trilogy, including this version of Part III, will see an elaborate 4K Ultra HD release in 2022. Given this disc's low price point and excellent quality, I absolutely think it worth owning in the interim.
Director Francis Ford Coppola continues to be invested in his films. His latest revision comes bearing the lengthy title The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. These updates to the theatrical cut of The Godfather: Part III are moderate but effective, and the release of this new edition should attract viewers back to a film that never deserved its tepid reputation. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.