Reel Dad: Coppola makes sense of 'Godfather III' with new edits

FILE - In this Sunday, April 28, 2019 file photo, director Francis Ford Coppola attends a screening of the "40th Anniversary and World Premiere of Apocalypse Now Final Cut" during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre, in New York. The film releases in theaters on Aug. 15.

FILE - In this Sunday, April 28, 2019 file photo, director Francis Ford Coppola attends a screening of the "40th Anniversary and World Premiere of Apocalypse Now Final Cut" during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre, in New York. The film releases in theaters on Aug. 15.

Brent N. Clarke / Brent N. Clarke /Invision /AP

“Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in.”

These classic words, spoken by film character Michael Corleone, frame a tense exchange in “The Godfather Part III” as well as our fascination with this fictional underworld family. And they may explain why, 30 years after the film premiered, it’s new, re-edited version is a must-see experience for anyone who loves this story.

Back in 1990, when the third installment of the Corleone story opened in theaters on Christmas Day, the film was criticized for its complex narrative, how it relied on familiarity with the characters and events from the first two films (released in 1972 and 1974) and for the performance of Sophia Coppola, daughter of the film’s director Francis Ford Coppola, in the pivotal role as a young Corleone.

Thirty years later, the film’s creator has tightened the narrative, made the film easier to follow (even for those who don’t remember specific lines from the first two films) and, actually, made Sophia’s performance easier to appreciate against a more coherent backdrop. Finally, the Corleones get the conclusion they deserve to the dramatic roller coaster they welcome us to share.

Much like the first two films, the retitled “The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” now opens with a family celebration, this one to honor Michael, played by Al Pacino, for his benevolent contributions. That’s a far cry from this man’s “day job” as the leader of the pivotal family in underworld crime. So it’s no surprise that Michael’s history - as well as tense relationships with people who envy his power - quickly plunges him back into the scheme-filled world he hoped to escape. Beneath every choice he makes is a love for family that, at times, he manages to forget when confronted with immediate challenges.

The strength of family is what makes “The Godfather” films such a staple in so many movie diets. While the original novel focused on action, director Coppola wisely textured many layers of Corleone commitment through all three films. The first two - both winners of Best Picture Oscars - celebrated the caring the characters expressed as well as explored the ways they found to express those feelings. Some legal, some not. With the director’s careful work with “Coda,” the third film now puts the family at the center for the good and bad decisions the lead characters make. And the series feels like a coherent collection.

Of course, Pacino still dominates the screen with a performance that, with the revisions, seems more focused than when first viewed. His scenes with Diane Keaton (as ex-wife Kay) are genuinely touching along with his regret for paths selected while Andy Garcia, who was Oscar-nominated for this performance, effectively channels James Caan’s energy as Corleone's son. What about Sophia Coppola? Years later, her portrayal of a naïve offspring seems spontaneously naïve, perhaps because so much around her makes more sense.

In later years, director Coppola also revised his films “Apocalypse Now” and “The Cotton Club.” As welcome as those upgrades may have been, those movies remained tweaked versions of the originals. “The Godfather Coda,” however, feels as though the potential of the film finally gets the chance to breathe now that the director removed a lot of clutter.

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Summary: The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone

Content: High. Francis Ford Coppola takes a fresh look at the third installment of this classic saga about a family with strong ties that bind. And the crimes they commit together.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to Coppola's willingness to simplify the narrative, the reimagined film is easier to absorb and enjoy.

Message: High. How a collection of characters believe they want the right things while making so many wrong decisions give these films their narrative energy.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to savor a refreshed look at a film can be relevant especially, for the Corleones, if you like the first two installments.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can prompt conversation between you and your older children about how people (and movies) can change over the years.

“The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” runs 2 hours and 39 minutes. The film is rated R for “graphic violence and language” and is showing on Amazon Prime and is available on DVD and Bluray.