Defending Part of The Godfather Part 3

This post was written for MovieRob’s February 2023 Genre Grandeur of Movies set in Italy. Thanks so very much Rob for allowing me to choose this month’s theme!

Warning: This post contains spoilers regarding The Godfather Part III and the re-cut of the 2020 Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.

When it comes to The Godfather Trilogy, most people would count the first two movies in a class by themselves. Both the first and second parts won Best Picture at the Oscars, and have gone on to set a new standard for storytelling. However when it comes to Part III, it often is tolerated, ignored, or seen as an all out mistake in film making, being the antithesis of what a movie installment should look like. Francis Ford Coppola himself wasn’t even satisfied with Part III, and in 2020 re-cut the movie, giving it its original title he wanted to give it in 1990: The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.

While it’s easy to admit Part III has some serious issues, it should not be discounted as a mistake, as it really does draw a conclusion to the story of Michael Corleone and his time as The Godfather. Truthfully, I personally cannot defend all elements of the Godfather Part III, what I will do is point out the positives of the story, as well as discussing what could have been fixed to create a stronger film.

First up, there are the strengths of this movie that work naturally well with the narrative. What Francis Ford Coppola did with Part III is focus the narrative back on the roots of the story: the family. The entire intrigue of The Godfather has always been the characters. The viewer cares about the Corlene family and how Michael (Al Pacino) has changed as a person in regards to being The Godfather. While the mafia brings a fascinating angle to the family unit, it’s ultimately Michael’s choices and the balancing act of being a Don versus being the head of his family that the audience really cares about. Part III doesn’t really have many ‘dealing’ or ‘business’ scenes, as it’s all centered on the family unit and the transition point of Michael’s decline and transfer of power to Vincent (Andy Garcia).

Moreover, Part III also brings the saga full circle as some outsiders are brought into the main narrative. In Part I, Michael was the outsider, and in this movie we see characters Kay (Diane Keaton), her and Michael’s children Anthony and Mary (played by the last minute replace Sophia Coppola), Connie (Talia Shire) and illegitimate nephew Vincent, become directly impacted by Michael’s choices. They all play heavily into Part III’s narrative, and are not the “normal” people who would be pulled into the business’s affairs. While Anthony refuses to become his father’s successor, Vincent does, with Connie playing a major role in final decisions. Mary and Kay while admittedly don’t participate in the business, they are subsequently pulled in due to Michael’s choices and they face the consequences.

Lastly, the fact a majority of this movie’s setting is in Italy (well Sicily, and YES there is a legit difference, my great grandma would attest to this!), really hones in the whole experience of the ancestry and the backstory. The landscape of Palermo, especially towards the end, heightens the emotion of the whole story knowing they are all in this sacred land.

On the other side of it, Part III has some legit problems regarding its plot. It’s no secret the Vincent and Mary romance plot is BAD and creepy. Vincent may be an illegitimate son of Sonny’s, but his dad and Michael are brothers. Mary and Vincent are still first cousins any way you slice it. It’s understandable the writers were going for the whole, “forbidden love angle”, but it’s just creepy, for a modern day narrative set in modern day. One could argue literature and real life is peppered with cousin romance but usually it’s set in far away, long ago times, and it’s almost never first cousins, as the most common relation is usually distant.

The other element weighing down this installment is of course some of the cast – or lack of cast. Tom Hagen’s absence hurts the narrative. We all know the behind the scenes pay dispute between Robert Duvall and the Paramount executives, and why he chose not to participate, yet it still makes the story weaker. The substitute of the B.J. Harrison (George Hamilton) character not playing a major role is just a reminder of what could have been.

Then there’s Sophia Coppola. While her acting may have been somewhat cringe-worthy bad, and she got the role in part due to nepotism, I think it’s harsh to say she was the entire problem with the movie. The part of Mary was that of a naive young girl, and that’s the way she played the character. Her reactions were awful, but I think she grasped the essence of who the character was.

Finally, let’s discuss the ending: the original and the Coda version and why actually a blend of both is actually the best. In the original ending we visually see Michael die: he slumps over in his chair. In the coda, there is no physical death, as he puts on his glasses and miserably sits alone in the courtyard. I actually prefer the final shot of the Coda, as Michael having a spiritual death alongside his daughter outside the opera house is a fitting conclusion to his character. Being doomed to spend the rest of his life alone with no one, anticipating death is a much harsher fate.

But what the original ending has that the Coda cuts out is the flashback sequence of Michael dancing with the women in his life: Mary, Antonia, and finally Kay. If I were to recut the ending, I would keep this dancing flashback montage, then end it right where Coppola did in the Coda, and that’s what I believe to be the strongest ending. The montage added to the emotion, and then to see Michael sit and cope with how he lost all THREE of them, would be the ultimate powerful ending.

All in all, The Godfather Part III is flawed, but it’s not completely disposable. It contains a great ending for one of the most beloved movie characters of all time. To see Michael’s success as a Don come at the expense of his family is enthralling and amazing, and it all unfolds in Part III. Watch the 1990 version or even the Coda, but don’t cheat yourself out of the full ending. Sure it may be a little messy, but much like Michael Corleone himself, it’s an iconic one! 


3 thoughts on “Defending Part of The Godfather Part 3

  1. Great piece, Emily. While it is undoubtedly the weakest part of the trilogy in terms of story and the loss of Tom, it has much to enjoy despite that. The best thing about the film is that incredible and heart-wrenching performance from Al, depicting Michael wrestling internally with guilt and remorse. It’s also nice to see Talia Shire’s Connie get more to do and become a dominant figure in the family. Andy Garcia’s terrific too. The vitriol that Sophia was subjected to for her work in this is appalling.

    The ending on the opera steps is one of the most powerful and moving moments in all of cinema for me. Personally I prefer the original cut over Coda precisely because of the dance montage. It serves to remind us that it is the Corleone women who have paid the heaviest price over the centuries for the actions of their menfolk, and it reminds us of the happiness that could and should have been if only Michael not been born into that particular family and ended up as Don.

    Liked by 1 person

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