Stars Miles Teller, Matthew Goode, Dan Fogler, Burn Gorman, Colin Hanks, Giovanni Ribisi, Juno Temple, Patrick Gallo.
There are a few ways to interpret “The Offer.” On the surface, it’s the story of the quest to achieve a creative vision no matter what it takes. From another perspective, it’s a studio, Paramount, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of its greatest achievements, The Godfather, by sensationalizing a unique period of Hollywood history.
The details as presented in the 10-part limited series series now streaming in its entirety on Paramount+ likely lean more on the side of embellishment than fact, punching up the outlandishness beyond the point of believability in some cases. But that hardly matters when the end result is as entertaining a guilty pleasure as it turned out to be.
The particulars of the making of the “Godfather” films are easy enough to come by, given the plethora of bonus materials on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy over the years, not to mention countless books on the subject. The primary inspiration for “The Offer” is credited to the experiences of producer Albert S. Ruddy, thus making him the central figure for the series.
Ruddy (Miles Teller) is introduced as a bored programmer at the Rand Corporation who, thanks to a chance encounter, ends up creating “Hogan’s Heroes” for CBS (in truth, Ruddy’s Hollywood experience stretches back before his time at Rand).
Wanting to break into film, Ruddy convinces Paramount boss Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) to give him a shot with a low-budget film starring Robert Redford.
Meanwhile, Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) writes The Godfather, which turns out to be one of the best-selling novels of all time. Paramount owns the rights to make a movie version, but parent company Gulf + Western doesn’t want to risk too much money on yet another “gangster picture,” so they stick Ruddy on it.
Ruddy immediately breaks convention by hiring Puzo to write the screenplay (Hollywood for the longest time had taboos about creatives crossing mediums — TV to movies, novels to screenplays, etc.). When Puzo’s efforts stall, Ruddy brings in Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) to direct — another controversial move given Coppola’s disastrous track record as a director despite an Oscar win for writing Patton. Coppola is reluctant at first, but agrees to the project on the basis of bringing authenticity to an epic story about an Italian family.
Sticking Puzo and Coppola in a house together to hash out the screenplay (even though in real life they supposedly worked on it separately), Ruddy must then deal with a bigger obstacle to the film — opposition from the mafia itself, who see the book as a slur. Frank Sinatra is particularly offended by a crooner character in the novel, and vows to shut down the production.
Now supposedly thrust into the middle of a mob war against Hollywood, Ruddy makes pals with mob boss Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), which gets some heat off the film but doesn’t please the corporate brass at Gulf + Western or Paramount. Meanwhile, Colombo’s support of the film draws out some of his enemies within the mob who seek to replace him.
And so the series continues as a tug-of-war between artistic integrity, mafia greed and the corporate bottom line. The mob influence on the production was probably played up to draw parallels to the movie’s storyline, while the show contains no shortage of references to nostalgia touchpoints from the era audiences will recognize, from other movies to some of the actors up for roles in the film.
As with most docudramas, certain events and characters are condensed and conflated for the sake of the narrative. For instance, Colombo rival Joe Gallo is shown being taken out because his attempts to extort the production threaten the budget to film in Sicily, when in reality he wasn’t killed until after the movie was released.
The cast is mostly solid, and Teller does a great job carrying the load as Ruddy, though his portrayal as a miracle worker and solver of all problems seems to be a bit overblown. Ribisi, on the other hand, is so over-the-top as Colombo he seems like he’s on a different show. But the standout is Goode as Robert Evans, so completely transforming into the iconic Hollywood executive that it might as well be Evans playing himself. If Paramount+ doesn’t greenlight a docudrama of Evans’ autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture starring Goode, it will be missing out.
Through Evans, “The Offer” gets to indulge a bit in telling the story of Paramount in general in the early 1970s, when he was brought in by Gulf + Western boss Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman) to turn the studio’s fortunes around. As such, the show delves a bit into the success of Love Story, starring Evans’ wife Ali MacGraw, and how their marriage disintegrated when he started to focus on The Godfather, and she ended up in the arms of Steven McQueen on the set of The Getaway. Evans also keeps an eye on his next project, Chinatown, despite his corporate overlords wanting to dump it as something they “don’t understand.” (Corporate stooges being idiots when it comes to art is a big theme of the show.)
Those familiar with The Kid Stays in the Picture (the book or the 2002 documentary adaptation of it narrated by Evans) might note a number of discrepancies between Evans’ own accounts of these events and how “The Offer” portrays them. For instance, in the show, Coppola and Ruddy are fighting with Gulf + Western over how long The Godfather is, preferring the nearly three-hour version we all know and love today, while the bean-counters want to maximize screenings with a two-hour version (a classic debate in Hollywood — the best-known recent example involving the 2017 Justice League movie). Evans has to swoop in from a drunken stupor over his failed marriage to save the longer cut, thus sending the film on a path toward Oscar glory.
In Evans’ own account, Coppola turned in a two-hour version, and Evans ordered him to recut it to make it longer, thus delaying the film from a Christmas 1971 release to March 1972 (a delay mentioned in the show that doesn’t make much sense if the longer cut already existed). Conjecture over the editing of The Godfather has occupied much discussion over the years, and Coppola’s own accounts would likely fill further volumes.
For however inaccurate it may be, “The Offer” is still first and foremost a love letter to The Godfather, and should only serve to build on fans’ appreciation of that classic film, and a love of cinema in general.