Francis Ford Coppola’s restoration and re-edit of THE GODFATHER 3 yields a much better movie and a definitive epilogue for the effort on par with Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux.

Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER is unabashedly one of my favorite films. Undoubtedly the film that ushered in the “New Hollywood” age of filmmaker auteurs of the 1970s, The Godfather thrust viewers into the world of the Corleone crime family at the close of World War 2 and introduced us to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), a veteran of the war who wants nothing of his father’s business and only to marry his love Kay (Diane Keaton). But as violence closes in on his family, Michael is forced to reluctantly take up the mantle of Godfather to protect his family. This change in Michael is further explored in Coppola’s sequel, THE GODFATHER PART 2, one of the rare sequels to surpass its original in quality; as we see how power begins to eclipse the love of family as we conversely explore how Michael’s father Vito Corleone’s rise to power was driven by revenge. In 1990, Coppola and writer Mario Puzo concluded their trilogy with The Godfather Part 3, a film that could not live up to the shadow of the dual Best Picture winners that proceeded it and one that Paramount would not allow released with its original title. Now, Coppola has mounted a frame-by-frame restoration of the film and been allowed to call the film what he always wanted it to be, The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone; a film that explores the final downfall of Pacino’s character with a new more focused edit that makes the film’s international plot easier to follow while adding a renewed focus on the relationship between Michael and his family to show us what a true fall from grace he experiences.

By and large, one of the biggest problems people had with The Godfather Part 3 was what Michael’s agenda with the Vatican and Cardinal Gilday is for the bulk of the film’s first act. This edit remedies that by placing Michael and Gilday’s meeting at the beginning of the film, rather than 40 minutes into the film’s running time. By doing so, it more closely mirrors the opening scene of the original Godfather and provides the audience with the necessary grounding leading into the film to let the audience focus on Michael’s concurrent need to reconnect with his family. Michael has sold his interests in the family’s gambling operations to go completely legitimate and but the assets of a European conglomerate called International Immobiliare, which would make him one of the richest people in the world and wash away the stain of the illegal activities that earned the Corleones their wealth. As Corleone pines to redeem his family’s business in the business world, he hopes to do the same with Kay, as he hopes to wash away her dread of him by letting his son Anthony pursue a career as an opera singer in Italy. But as Michael sees hope in his relationship with Kay, he sees the opposite in his daughter Mary’s growing infatuation with Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the bastard son of Michael’s late brother Santino. Vincent develops an intense rivalry with Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), the successor to Michael’s father’s interests in New York, a rivalry which complicates Michael’s relationships with the remaining families in the Commission and inspires his one-time associate Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) to plot against him. In the midst of all this, the families want in on Michael’s Vatican deal, even as the Pope, whose approval is needed to close the deal, lies in grave condition, even after Michael has contributed hundreds of millions to the Vatican and Gilday.

The most noticeable change from the original version of the film to this cut is the omission of the lingering ghost of Fredo’s death from The Godfather Part 2 haunting Michael’s thoughts and decisions throughout the film. This cut focuses largely on Michael wanting to repair his relationship with Kay and his children. The repeated callbacks to Fredo muddy the focus of that intention in the film’s original cut. The film’s reordering also makes the plot more focused on getting from Point A to B, making it more linear and easier to follow with all its threads. We see the relationship between Michael and Vincent mirror more closely that of the one Michael’s father and Vincent’s father Sonny, as Michael tries to be the calming influence on Vincent that Vito never was on Sonny. Mary and Vincent’s relationship is a bit more condensed in this version as well, as the incestuous relationship seemed to dominate the bulk of the film before. Here, less is more and you can see the attraction and the decades that have gone by have made Sofia Coppola’s casting a non-issue. But, by and large, the film’s best improvement is the ending. Michael’s death is more of a metaphorical one as his life is his family and that loss breaks him. It’s a clever change done through editing and the invocation of a Sicilian proverb, but it makes the film that much stronger. Coda becomes one of those rare films where a re-edit finds a stronger film with a tighter edit.

That being said, the actual restoration does have some issues. While the bulk of the film looks new and pristine; there are issues with digital noise reduction in the film’s first act that really take you out of the film. This is extremely noticeable in the film’s first meeting with Michael, Zasa, and Vincent in Michael’s office where the contrast and noise make everyone look blown-up and orange and it seems like noise is added to try and find detail where it’s washed out. The noise is also an issue in the first meeting between Micheal and the European companies involved in Immobiliare. Some of these are issues with the source materials, and this is likely the best the film will look, but the DNR issues have to be noted. The film’s audio mixes are great as well. It’s disappointing there isn’t more material on the disc in terms of documentaries, but in terms of bare-bones, this new edit improves the film a thousandfold.

The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is a rediscovery; it lets you experience the Godfather saga in a new way and makes Part 3 less of an Apocrypha and more of the epilogue to the story of Michael Corleone it was always meant to be. Very recommended.