While it lacks any sort of artistic authority, there’s an ironic elegance to Paramount+’s The Offera limited series about the making of The Godfather.
Yew The Godfather took a schlocky Mario Puzo novel and elevated it to prestige, The Offer has taken a prestigious movie and lowered it back down to schlock.
The Bottom Line
Only rarely less than watchable — though the 64-minute finale is close to unwatchable — The Offer is an illustrated Wikipedia entry illogically stretched to 10 hours by pandering to cinema fans with endless winking and nudging, and with performances that range from likably cartoonish to Madame Tussauds in a heatwave. It’s bad, but never quite boring.
“Based on Albert S. Ruddy’s experience of making The Godfather” — try not to snort at this unique crediting nomenclature — The Offer was created by Michael Tolkin and developed by Tolkin and Leslie Greif. We begin with Ruddy (Miles Teller) as an unhappy programmer for the Rand Corporation. Perhaps because of his analytical nature, Ruddy has cracked the formula of the broadcast television comedy, which he uses to launch his Hollywood career with the creation of… Hogan’s Heroes.
But bad television has no appeal for Ruddy, and he finagles his way onto the Paramount lot. After a quick meeting with Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), the studio’s boy wonder, he has a production deal.
For questionable reasons, Ruddy is assigned duties producing The Godfatherthe studio’s adaptation of Puzo’s (Patrick Gallo) bestselling novel — a peculiar target for penny-pinching Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), head of Paramount’s corporate parent Gulf + Western, and his anti-intellectual stooge Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks).
So Ruddy sets out to make the best movie possible and to prevent anybody from being killed by the real-life Mafia, which has targeted the production thanks to agitating from ascendant gangster Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) and a generally insecure Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes). Ruddy and helpful gal Friday Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple) hire Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) to work on the script with Puzo, leading to established Godfather lore like executives hating Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) and Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers), complaining about Gordon Willis’ (TJ Thyne) cinematography and general uproars about budgetary overages and a bulging running time.
As best I can explain it, Tolkin and company like the structural symmetry of organized crime and organized Hollywood, two parallel patronage systems with arcane languages, exaggerated expressions of loyalty and hierarchies of tyrannical leadership. This would come across better if the Mafia stuff weren’t unrelentingly generic, especially in the mobsters-only sequences that Ruddy couldn’t have been privy to and therefore are cobbled together, one must assume, from discarded old Sopranos specscripts.
Only somewhat better are the scenes that include Ruddy and are at least apocryphal instead of utter bunk, and look to have been conceived by somebody who saw Bullets Over Broadway nearly 30 years ago and vaguely remembers laughing. Said scenes are held together by Ribisi’s dinner-theater Sling Blade impression.
In a world of godfathers, the godfatheriest godfather of all is the producer, specifically the producer upon whose experience of making The Godfather the series is based. Ruddy is a master at making people offers they can’t refuse, and the scripts go so far as to contrive a scene where Ruddy is sitting at Vito Corleone’s desk taking requests from his various department heads.
And then, in case you still can’t figure out how integral to things Al Ruddy was, the sixth episode introduces a completely irrelevant character to visit the set and keep asking Ruddy what a producer does. If anybody has any doubt concerning producing clout, look no further than the opening credits where Tolkin has managed to get his name listed as many as six times in some episodes. It’s like a joke out of The Player.
Despite Ruddy’s vaunted knowledge of television structure, The Offer is made without any clear sense of episodic flow. Scenes sometimes don’t connect at all in time and rarely connect in theme, and other than a couple of episodes concluding with shootouts, there’s nothing bridging one hour to the next. I can only dream of how much better The Offer would move with 75 percent less of the Mafia stuff and a comparable reduction in familiar points like “Robert Evans doesn’t like Al Pacino” or “Francis Ford Coppola really wants to shoot in Sicily” or “Barry Lapidus prefers making money to movies. ” Dexter Fletcher and the series’ subsequent directors can’t find any style that either mirrors or contrasts with the look and feel of The Godfather. It’s flatly, blandly handsome throughout.
The actual behind-the-scenes stuff isn’t awful, but it’s definitely silly. Every line was written with an eye on an all-too-aware 2022 audience, substituting cheap dramatic irony for genuine drama that none of the writers figured out how to generate. Since we’re never going to feel suspense as to whether Pacino will play Michael or the studio will insist on a two-hour cut or Cabaret will win the best picture Oscar, we’re left with the thoroughly hollow amusement of gags related to various celebrity walk-ons, complaints that the script for Chinatown doesn’t make sense, or references intended to elicit reactions reminiscent of the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing even more than anything else.
It’s a whole lot of trivia and very little substance, but folks love trivia and I expect many a film fan will bore their kids or significant others with informative whispers of, “That was Ann-Margret!” or “Robert Evans is going to regret letting Ali MacGraw make The Getaway” or “And that book was made into papermoon!”
Occasionally the obviousness works. Puzo and Coppola as an odd couple writing their script in the increasing squalor of a rented house in the Hollywood Hills never feels real for a second, but Gallo and Fogler have an easy rapport and one can, stepping back, see the buddy-comedy version of The Offer that’s actually fun, albeit buried in other stuff. There’s an effective scene in which Coppola invites the cast out for an Italian dinner before production and he watches them naturally settle into their Godfather roles.
Ryan Murphy has made a cottage industry of this sort of “Everybody is somebody famous!” real-life limited series, and usually you can count on one or two out-of-sync performances from people who are just playing the celebrity’s public persona, rather than an actual person. Like original American Crime Story star John Travolta’s “take” on Robert Shapiro. That’s the inadvertent prototype for maybe half of the performances in The Offer, and just as the Travolta performance had fans, I’m guessing there will be a split on which caricatures here some viewers enjoy. Heck, I got a kick out of Gorman’s crazily lascivious, maniacal take on Bluhdorn, so maybe you won’t be distracted by Ribisi’s one-note croaking.
There’s bound to be general affection for Goode, who looks nothing at all like Evans, but delivers a fine rendition of the legendary narrator’s velvety tones and Yiddish-literated carnival-barker cadences. There’s bound to be much less affection for Chambers, whose makeup occasionally gives a vague hint of Brando for a performance that otherwise doesn’t rise even to the level of impersonation.
Benefiting from playing two of the characters with no well-known image to speak of, Teller is thoroughly acceptable — even if The Offer fails to ever justify putting Ruddy in the spotlight of this story — and Temple sparkles as the series’ only female figure with any agency at all.
I’m still enough of a Hollywood obsessive that The Offer left me fantasizing about other filmmaking stories from this period that I would watch as limited series if they were better handled — whether an adaptation of Sam Wasson’s The Big Goodbye (about the making of Chinatown) or Mark Harris’ 1967 omnibus Pictures at a Revolution. It shouldn’t take an uninspired TV series to prove how hard it is to make an inspired movie.