Wednesday, April 17

The Offer review – the making of The Godfather makes for hit-and-miss TV | Television

Halfway through The Offer, a new Paramount+ limited series on the making of The Godfather, the film’s sole producer, Al Ruddy (Miles Teller), has a surprise meeting with two FBI agents. Such shadowy encounters are, as this patchy and self-indulgent ten-part story reveals, par for the course on a production knotted with complications and controversy. These obstacles are, of course, surmounted; the producer quickly charms the FBI agents investigating Ruddy’s budding friendship with New York mob boss Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi, in full ham mode). When one asks why Ruddy left Hogan’s Heroes, the hit sitcom he co-created, to work in the movies, he replies: “TV is too limiting. You can’t tell real stories on TV. It’s fake. And Marlon Brando does not do TV.”

I had to laugh. Here I am, watching 10ish hours of a Paramount+ show about one of Paramount Pictures’ greatest triumphs – a limited series given too-few limits. It’s television, these days, where one could tell a story like this: meta, sprawling, populated with a who’s who of character actors, overlong. (To be fair, it is very in the spirit of The Godfather to go long on time and spare few whims.) The Offer, created by Michael Tolkin, is ostensibly the true story behind the making of the 1972 classic – I’m not here to dispute the Godfather’s legacy – but the show often feels more like a fantasy of male doggedness or Wikipedia article come to life than behind-the-scenes account.

Take a scene in the fourth episode in which Ruddy and his wily assistant Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple, in a similar role to her spunky ballbuster turn on Ted Lasso) are locking down tricky negotiations for The Godfather. “When I started working for you, I really wasn’t sure that you knew what you were doing,” she tells him. “Well, let me tell you. You’re doing something important. That’s why I don’t mind trading in a love life for reading Godfather rewrites. You just fucking swing, and that matters.” That could probably double as a thesis statement for the series, which despite dozens of characters and several registers – work procedural porn, crime drama, character comedy and Hollywood paean – is ultimately about Ruddy’s heroic persistence of him as producer.

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The main plot of The Offer cycles like this: there’s an obstacle to making the Godfather, be it casting Pacino, Frank Sinatra denouncing the project or the mob wanting a cut. Ruddy, a restless former office pencil pusher, and his team from him – Bettye, The Godfather novelist Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) and writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (a particularly convincing Dan Fogler) – out-maneuver and negotiate their way through said road blocks. This is either in collaboration with or at the expense of Ruddy’s higher-ups: swaggering Paramount boss Bob Evans (Matthew Goode), mercurial studio owner Charlie Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman) and his feckless Gulf and Western executive Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks). There are a lot of phone calls, conference rooms and cross-country flights. The Godfather show, despite seemingly all odds, goes on.

At its best, the series manages to both take the stranger-than-fiction production of a genuinely groundbreaking movie seriously while also lightly mocking the self-seriousness of Hollywood storytellers and actual mobsters. Unfortunately, that balance is missing too often. The Offer’s first episode opens at a mob boss dinner in Little Italy, and its first four conclude with a cliff-hanger involving Mafia violence. The Offer occasionally works as a meta-depiction of Hollywood lore, but not as a television show about the type of people in The Godfather. Violent scenes in which real-life criminals torment and interrogate and kill feel like the thing The Godfather team insisted they were avoiding: a rote Mafia flick.

Time and again, The Offer, like Ruddy, seems to have a bit off more than it can chew. Colombo and his ilk of him, who feel insulted by the movie, at first seem pathetic and petty; Ruddy’s friendship with Colombo seems to be for show. Yet The Offer softens on both over time, playing Ruddy’s cozying up to mobsters (Colombo kidnaps and threatens a man into loaning his Staten Island house for the Corleone estate, for example) as simply necessary for the movie. With the exception of Bettye, the women – Ruddy’s first wife Francoise (Nora Arnezeder) and Evans’s wife Ali MacGraw (Meredith Garretson) mostly serve as icons of their partners’ career obsessions without much understanding of why they’re in the relationship in the first place.

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Still, there are some bright spots. Goode is delightful as the charismatic, unstable Evans. Anthony Ippolito’s embodiment of a young and hungry Al Pacino is uncanny; the same cannot be said of Justin Chambers’ Marlon Brando whisper or Frank John Hughes’s portrayal of an aggressive, petty Frank Sinatra, both of which strain against the weight of iconography. And inside baseball can be fun – somehow the farther up Paramount Pictures’ as this Paramount+ show goes, the more interesting it is. Teller is the kind of actor you want to watch throw some elbows to get things done, even if his faux gravelly voice slips in more intimate scenes.

All criticisms – and there are many – aside, the Offer remains watchable to the bloated end. It may not be the hard-won prestige of The Godfather, but in this over-saturated landscape content, that is its own form of achievement.

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