At Oscar time, there is always a lot of talk about which film has the best real-life narrative. Generally speaking, it’s not the movie with the best script that wins Best Picture, it’s the movie with the best story. And, in 1972, no film had the story The Godfather had. Now, fifty years later, there’s a 10-part mini-series revealing every sordid detail behind the making of arguably one of the best films ever made.
Appropriately enough, The Offer is streaming exclusively on Paramount+, the streaming service for Paramount Pictures, the same studio that The Godfather saved with its success back in 1972. The series is based on the experiences of The Godfather producer Albert S. Ruddy, who serves as executive producer of the series, which may be part of the problem. It’s difficult to be completely objective when it comes to telling your own story, and, when it comes to The Offer, the story that’s actually told is sadly the one we are the least interested in hearing.
The overall premise of The Offer is that everything was working against The Godfather coming together as a film. Even though it was based on the worldwide bestseller by Mario Puzo, the book itself came with serious baggage attached, most notably the fact that real-life Italian mobsters took umbrage with how they were portrayed in Puzo’s novel. Particularly upset was Frank Sinatra, who took the character of Johnny Fontaine to be a very thinly veiled version of himself and swore to use every ounce of his power and connections to make sure the film version of the book never got made.
Additionally, New York mob boss Joe Colombo joined the chorus against the book and the promise of a film by using all the weight of the Italian-American Civil Rights League to rally against the film. Paramount Pictures became quite nervous from all the negative attention the movie was getting, plus all of the other issues, like budget overruns and casting conflicts, which almost had the studio considering pulling the plug more than once. According to this series, every issue, problem, and obstacle in getting The Godfather made was deftly handled by Ruddy, a man whose producing prowess was apparently the foundation upon which everything else was built. The only problem is that we’ve lost interest by the time we actually get to the making of the movie itself.
Put simply, we don’t care about Ruddy’s story. It’s not just that his story feels self-serving and is not very interesting, but because Ruddy is played by Miles Teller, who came on as a replacement for Armie Hammer at the eleventh hour, and whose performance detracts so much from the rest of what’s going on that he just about ruins the whole experience. It’s hard to tell if it’s because Teller is playing him or not, but Ruddy comes off as a personality-free, wooden version of a human being, ticking off boxes rather than emotionally connecting with anything.
We’re supposed to care about how he got the job of producing The Godfather, and care about his love life, and his friendship with Colombo, and, of course, him, but none of it happens. Teller’s performance is nearly unwatchable, as his colorless impression drains all the potential for fun from this story, which should be engaging and thoroughly entertaining.
The biggest irony of all with The Offer is that the least interesting parts of the story of making the greatest mafia movie ever made are the parts about the mafia. Half of The Offer deals with Ruddy’s relationship with Colombo, played by Giovanni Ribisi, and the rest of the mafia, including Sinatra, played by Frank John Hughes, and all we are doing when these scenes are playing is wishing they would end so we could get back to the people actually involved with the movie. Only in Hollywood are the characters running a studio and making a movie more colorful and entertaining than the mob.
Most entertaining is Paramount Studio head Robert Evans, played with glorious, gleeful gusto by Matthew Goode, who delivers the best performance of his career as the larger-than-life, cocaine-fueled, passion-driven mogul who shepherded The Godfather from concept to screen. Goode is pure genius in his portrayal of Evans, finding all the pathos, arrogance, and carnival-barker seediness in his character and his doe-eyed, irresistible charm that oozes from every pore. If The Offer had been told from Evans’ perspective, with Goode in the part, The Offer would have been something completely different and completely wonderful.
Likewise, Juno Temple’s portrayal of Ruddy’s resourceful and underestimated secretary, Bettye, and Dan Fogler’s hilariously frustrated deer-in-headlights Francis Ford Coppola, who both find ways to build a depth to characters who are written to serve a function rather than contribute to the overall emotional effect. Most of the supporting performances, from Burn Gorman as Gulf & Western head Charles Bluhdorn to Patrick Gallo as Mario Puzo, to Jake Cannavale as Colombo’s henchman, Caesar, and even Justin Chambers as Marlon Brando and Anthony Ippolito as Al Pacino, all rise above their one-dimensional, as-written personas and bring great color to an otherwise gray story. The one exception is Colin Hanks as Gulf & Western executive Barry Lapidus, who plays the corporate heavy with disappointing predictability.
Even with ten full episodes, The Offer still feels like only half the story because it wanders way off course way too often and doesn’t even give us what we are really there for. Although it’s understandable to not show any of the real scenes from the original film, it makes for some very awkward cuts while seeing the dramatization of the preparation to shoot a very famous scene, and then the camera purposely cutting away, making sure to not show us what’s actually being filmed. It makes for a frustrating feeling, coming all this way and, in the end, really not seeing anything at all.
In the end, The Offer is more frustrating than fruitful, but there are enough nuggets of pure joy and enough catnip for cinephiles to make the journey, but the overall experience leaves so much more to be desired.