The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) tries to move his family into legitimate business through a labyrinthine deal with the Vatican, only to find that his old friends and associates won’t allow him and his family to escape his past unscathed.

REVIEW: The Godfather: Part III ranks as one of the most unfairly maligned films in history. Granted, it’s not as good as The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II. Facts are facts, and those happen to be two of the greatest films ever made. What also didn’t help Francis Ford Coppola’s film was the fact that it had the misfortune to come out the same year as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, and next to that film this felt inevitably old-fashioned, even slow.

Its biggest liability though was Sofia Coppola’s performance as Michael’s daughter, Mary. In hindsight, and because she’s emerged as a spectacular director in her own right, people are now defending her performance. Let’s face it folks – she’s bad. Really bad. That said, it was never her fault. Coppola should have never put his daughter, in her first acting job, up against people like Al Pacino, Andy Garcia & Diane Keaton. Next to them, anyone not operating at the peak of their talents can’t help but come off as amateurish. She was essentially thrown to the lions, and as a director herself, I doubt she would even defend the performance.

Andy garcia and Al Pacino in The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone

However, if you can overlook that fatal piece of miscasting, The Godfather: Part III is good, really good at times. The premise, which involves a remorseful Michael trying to buy respectability through the Vatican, is intriguing. Pacino’s performance is terrific, with him giving Michael a real sense of mortality and shame. The death of Fredo haunts him throughout, and he’s only able to redeem himself through his unwavering love of his children, with his relationship with Mary setting the film up for a heartbreaking conclusion. No one plays haunted like Pacino, and this ranks as one of his best performances.

Where the film is less successful is in the depiction of an incestual affair between Mary and Andy Garcia’s Vincent. One problem is that the two have no chemistry – whereas it should have been red hot. Again, chalk this up to the miscasting of Coppola, who makes Mary come off as an entitled brat. Garcia is terrific as the hot-headed nephew, who’s Sonny’s illegitimate child, and it’s a shame the series never did continue with him as Godfather, although there’s still time.

Diane Keaton also sparkles as Kay, with the ultimate hints at reconciliation between her and Michael the most genuinely moving part of the film. Coppola’s staging of the set-pieces is immaculate, with the opening party following in the tradition of the other two films, while the Mafioso helicopter massacre is as good as anything in the trilogy. The opera house climax is also impeccably done, and if the film has any real fault other than Sofia Coppola, it’s the absence of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, with George Hamilton’s attorney, Harrison, just coming off as another suit.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone

Which brings me to the fact that this new version of the film, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, is being billed as a striking re-imagining of the original film. It’s not. Coppola has re-worked the intro and made a controversial subtraction at the end that ends the film on a note of irony which, it should be said, also leaves the series open for another installment. Otherwise, it’s the same movie it always was, with a nip and tuck here and there, but otherwise no real changes. The most striking change is the color timing, with Gordon Willis’ golden-hued cinematography being reworked so that it looks more contemporary. I have mixed feelings on this, just as I did when the late Tony Scott did it to REVENGE, as it's a little revisionist, but that’s his prerogative.

Overall, The Godfather: Part III is as good as it ever was. It’s not an all-out masterpiece like the first two films, but it’s still a remarkably good gangster drama that, it should be said, is one fatally flawed performance away from greatness.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.