I had never seen either of the first two Godfather movies when I heard rumors in 1989 that Sylvester Stallone was going to star in the third Godfather movie.
Don’t laugh but the late film critic Roger Ebert once said that Stallone reminded him of a younger Marlon Brando. After Rocky came out, it seemed Sly could’ve been vying for the same movies that Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro were being considered. Then things changed in the 1980s as Sly decided to focus on more action-oriented movies.
Still, it would’ve been a gutsy move even if Francis Ford Coppola had no intention of doing that. Coppola has spoken out as he was not too happy with the third movie not even wanting to call it The Godfather Part III as he felt the first two movies wrapped everything up.
Watching Michael Corleone go from the baby brother of a family sitting outside on a bench of his parent’s house alone and lovelorn and innocent in the first Godfather to being a criminal heavyweight at the end of The Godfather Part II, alone among the fall decor was a nice ending. Michael never wanted to be involved in his father’s business. At the end of the second, he was not only the head of the business, he had killed one brother, Fredo, and had control on another, Tom Hagen.
Yet he was still alone with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton) leaving him. That flashback scene to the siblings sitting around getting ready for their father’s birthday showed just how much had changed.
The third movie had Michael Corleone now basically a multi-millionaire only involved in organized crime as kind of a silent partner of a silent partner. And he’s trying to more or less buy his way into heaven with a huge business deal with the Vatican.
Coppola and writer Mario Puzo incorporated fictional characters based on real-life events to tell this story, even though the story isn’t as thrilling as the previous two. And The Godfather Part III‘s lagging plot has been infamous for 30 years until Coppola finally had the chance to re-edit the movie and release it in late 2020 as The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
Not much has changed except the opening which does away with the scenes of the dilapidated compound on the lake in Lake Tahoe, Nev. and it goes right into Michael’s meeting with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) which came later in the movie.
Everything else seems almost the same except a few snips here and there to scenes. One scene I noticed was when Michael confronts his daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola) over her relationship with her half-cousin, Vincent (Andy Garcia). While Sofia Coppola became the butt of many jokes for her acting and Coppola himself was criticized for nepotism even though it was an 11th hour casting as Winona Ryder had backed out due to health issues.
I’m not sure any actress could’ve pulled off the role. There’s a lot to digest in the movie and the incestuous relationship between Mary and Vincent never is addressed the right way. Michael seems more worried about Mary getting involved Vincent for his hothead attitude rather than the fact they’re half-cousins.
Another change is the ending in which Michael is seen alone and older at the end. He doesn’t fall over and die as he does in the theatrical version, but he looks weak and fumbling to put on sunglasses. Mary has been killed accidentally by an assassin. And Michael was responsible for it.
I’m reminded of the scene in the second movie where the younger Vito Corleone visits a Mafia boss in Sicily who is old and sleeping in a chair, with losing his vision and hearing. Michael Corleone is having to suffer for his crimes.
Despite some problems, the third movie especially with the re-edit, shows us a man trying to atone for his sins but not really understanding what atonement really means. The movie has the great line, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” But Michael was never really out.
The era this movie is set in, the Italian Mafia still had a big control over the gambling casinos and hotels in Las Vegas, Nev. and Atlantic City. And Michael and other Mafia bosses have been involved in those casinos.
To the public, Michael is trying to present himself as a humanitarian, a Rockefeller or Carnegie using his money for good charity organizations but he is still connected to the Mafia.
Pacino, who got a lot of criticism, still shows some acting. In a scene with a cardinal, Michael breaks down confessing his sins and you can really see Michael 20 years after ordering the murder of Fredo has realized what he’s done. There’s also that great scream at the end as Michael cries over Mary’s dead body as we see almost the life go out of him as his body almost goes limp.
The death of Michael Corleone isn’t physical. It’s obvious at that moment his life as he wanted is over.
Garcia’s performance is great and worthy of the Oscar-nomination he received. Vincent is a hothead like his father, Sonny, ready to go in guns blazing. This makes the ending more sad for him as well as he’s still in love with Mary and has lost her.
There are a few problems. Joe Mantegna’s performance as Joey Zasa, based on John Gotti, is too small for the big boss gangster he is. This makes his killing half-way through the movie so confusing because very little of it is mentioned afterwards.
Even though the third movie, both the theatrical and Coda are the shortest of all movies, a lot seems to be missing. Maybe that’s why Paramount and reportedly even Coppola were planning a fourth movie in the late 1990s.
Thankfully that never happened. Star Wars can and should follow characters outside the Skywalker Saga, but The Godfather should always be about Michael Corleone.