Aside from the new title, which more closely reflects the tone that he and novelist/co-screenwriter Mario Puzo originally intended, Coppola has tinkered with the beginning and end, rearranging and editing some scenes. He has also trimmed 13 minutes from the movie, which still runs a characteristically epic two hours and 37 minutes.
“The Godfather” and its first sequel remain in the discussion among the greatest movies of all time, and the chronologically arranged “Godfather Saga” serves as a showcase of how neatly the latter’s flashbacks of a young Vito Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) expanded the story.
The third movie, on the other hand, came 16 years later, and despite the kick of Al Pacino reprising the role of Michael Corleone and Andy Garcia’s ferocious performance as Vincent, his brother’s out-of-wedlock son, pales by comparison. It’s by no means a disaster, but with expectations understandably sky high, not the final chapter for which one might have hoped.
Without breaking the two down shot for shot, Coppola’s editing feels as if it accentuates ties to the earlier films. Yet there’s only so much that can be done by rearranging pieces, and it’s not the sort of significant makeover associated with celebrated “director’s cuts,” a la “Blade Runner” or “Brazil.”
Coppola’s latest swipe at “Godfather III” also has a special tinge of irony, since the movie’s central theme involves the question of whether it’s possible to escape the past. That’s embodied by the movie’s most memorable line, when Michael, having labored to go legitimate and shed his family’s ties to organized crime, laments, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
While crime pays in “The Godfather” movies, the benefits don’t come without sacrifice. That’s evident not only in Michael’s narrative arc, but his demand of Vincent in exchange for taking over the family business: “Give up my daughter. That’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”
Ultimately, the changes to this “Godfather” don’t feel significant enough to wholly justify the exercise, but it’s still interesting revisiting a movie that — unlike its predecessors — isn’t repeated constantly on AMC, both for its overlooked strengths as well as its much-discussed weaknesses.
From that perspective, Michael’s complaint about the past’s vexing gravity does possess an element of truth: Even when you think you’re out, the studios find ways to pull you back in.
“The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” premieres in select theaters Dec. 4 and on Blu-ray and digital on Dec. 8.