Matthew Goode’s character, Robert Evans, the slick head of Paramount Pictures, gives some coarse but simple advice to Miles Teller’s Al Ruddy as a preamble to an even bigger proclamation, “Do whatever you can to make this movie,” and Ruddy takes it to heart. “The Offer” is based on “Al Ruddy’s experiences in making “The Godfather,”” and when you are the first person source of storytelling, chances are that you will be the hero of your own story.
“The Offer” is very much Al Ruddy’s point of view about the wheelings and dealings to ensure that Paramount Pictures’ 4 million dollars budgeted adaptation of “The Godfather” gets off the ground and lands on its feet, maintaining the mercurial vision of its director, Francis Ford Coppola, and also ensuring to keep the studio heads and the heads of the parent company above Paramount, Gulf and Western, happy. That is not accounting for a strong wave of dissent coming from the Mafia families in New York, led by Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), which originated from the bruised ego of Frank Sinatra, who believes that the character of Johnny Fontaine in the book is based on him. Funnily enough, that suspicion is never properly answered. Joe Columbo is also interested in organizing the first union dedicated exclusively to Italian Americans (the Italian League), and his campaign is built on smearing “The Godfather” book and Mario Puzo, its author, calling him a traitor to the race, and effectively trying to boycott the movie from being made, by hook or crook.
Within this crucible of a situation comes Al Ruddy, fresh off selling his pitch about a sitcom dealing with prisoners of war in a Nazi encampment during WWII (Hogan’s Heroes), and managing to impress Robert Evans by being a maverick, or in Hollywood terms, “ballsy” enough to just walk up and ask to work in producing. The result is being handed the reins of “The Godfather” and Ruddy being placed in the minefield of an operation of filmmaking.
The pilot, directed by Dexter Fletcher, is rough and rushed to a certain extent. It has to build up to who Ruddy is, a computer programmer at Rand Corporation, meeting with his then-girlfriend Francoise, and then pitching Hogan’s Heroes. It also builds up “The Godfather” novel angle by showing Mario Puzo distraught after the failure of his last book, The Fortunate Pilgrim, a deeply personal story about his mother, and forced to write a story about the Mafia, which Puzo had famously stated in real life he did for “a paycheck,” or in the case of the miniseries, to pay off his debts to loan sharks. It also builds up the slick Hollywood charm of Matthew Goode’s Robert Evans, Colin Hanks’ Barry Lapidus, the uptight, standoffish assistant director of Gulf and Western, and his boss, Charlie Blundhorn (Burn Gorman). Lapidus is a made-up character for the show but his demeanor definitely feels like the typical studio money-man. All of these events are built up before even “The Godfather” movie is raised as a possibility of being greenlit. So the pilot has a lot to do. However, Dan Fogler’s Francis Ford Coppola entering the frame brings a jolt of energy to the proceedings.
Fogler, as Coppola, is volatile, funny, clear in his vision of what to do with the book, and stubborn enough to believe in his requirements, however outlandish or financially non-viable they might seem. And Ruddy takes that conviction as the bible for being a bulldozer. Ruddy, more of a fixer than a conventional producer, takes his lack of knowledge of wheelings and dealings as a strength, using as little diplomacy as possible and utilizing underhanded dealings to get the job done, even at the cost of souring his relationship with Evans. Evans’ dislike of Pacino because he didn’t fit the mold of the leading man didn’t deter Ruddy or Coppola from convincing the casting director to show Pacino to Evans as much as possible, as underhandedly as possible. Similarly, Ruddy’s dealings with Columbo, the Italian Mafia, and even politicians, all at the cost of making a movie, showcased not only a single-minded determination to make this film, but also a very simple thesis that people watching movies or people critiquing movies fail to take into account: filmmaking is a business, filmmaking is collaborative, and filmmaking is hard.
The interconnected web of organized crime, Hollywood, business conglomerates, and the artistic viewpoint collide as a kaleidoscope of thoughts and difficulties as every episode moves forward, with new problems springing up for Ruddy and Coppola and the crew of “The Godfather” at every turn. The show manages to chug along, keeping the viewers hooked and engaged because it doesn’t forget to paint the characters as underdogs against a larger threat. In an ocean of fish, every big fish is an underdog to a bigger one, which is an underdog to a shark. By putting all of these characters into conflict, we get to see moments where the caricaturish portrayals seen in Episode 1 evolve into something far deeper and more well-rounded. At every moment he is on screen, Robert Evans steals the show. Blundhorn and his relationship with Betty, Ruddy’s secretary, evolves into a burgeoning friendship, and even Coppola’s interactions with Puzo, cinematographer Gordon Willis, and others are moments where you are bound to feel the sense of camaraderie evolving amidst adversity.
From moments where iconic scenes from “The Godfather” are recreated to cameo appearances by far more famous faces like Brando and Pacino, played by actors who leave an impression, “The Offer” understands that we expect these actors to play an integral part in the story because they are the most visible. But “The Offer” also widely sidesteps the easy way out and focuses on the story it wants to tell, mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse.
The efforts of “The Offer” to showcase the inner workings of Hollywood, the studio system, the creative process of the directors, as well as producers with creative bents within them, are all interesting moments to witness, especially when characters are talking about iconic movies that are being greenlit or that have already been released. This manages to keep the world-building grounded. But screenwriter Michael Tolkin and the writers’ room’s efforts to actually focus on the Italian mafia subplot and even introduce newer wrinkles within that do manage to inject the show with a dose of violence in the latter half of the season, but for the most part, those parts slow the show’s momentum down. However, it integrates all these elements coherently to tell a story that is multifaceted and entertaining, not especially profound, but informative in its pulp dramatization.
Part of the reason the pulp dramatization works is the production design by Lawrence Bennett, who manages to showcase the brightly lit office of Robert Evans, the glass doorway leading to the wood-paneled luxury of Blundhorn’s office at Gulf and Western, while also managing to show the making of the film sets with an authenticity appreciated in making the storytelling feel real. As the show progresses, the initial cartoonish portrayals give way to far more nuanced offerings, especially by Giovanni Ribisi’s Joe Columbo, Burn Gorman’s Charles Blundhorn, and especially Matthew Goode’s Robert Evans.
Miles Teller again takes on another project previously held by Armie Hammer and acquits the role admirably. While his job is to look tough and calm, there are moments when he is asked to exhibit genuine vulnerability, and he does so admirably. It’s a legitimate question whether the point of view of the making of “The Godfather” would have been better served from the lens of Coppola himself, but if the product is as decidedly entertaining as this, it’s hard to complain. There are moments of contrivances very much dependent on television writing, but these manage to work into the narrative and keep you engaged. The standouts of the show are Fogler’s Coppola and Juno Temple’s Betty Mcquart, Ruddy’s secretary in the show’s timeline, who later goes on to become a talent agent for heavyweight actors like George Clooney and Billy Dee Williams. Temple’s role is that of a strong, smart, and wily woman who knows how to navigate the Hollywood system with far more nuanced diplomacy than her boss, and these oppositely constructed characterizations are exactly why the two of them work so well together. The chemistry between Temple and Teller is also one of the strong highlights of the show.
“The Godfather” is arguably the greatest movie ever made, and the story behind its making is as troubled as it gets. This brings its own set of expectations while watching the show. But as for cinephiles interested in the art of filmmaking and the Hollywood studio system, “The Offer” has ample interesting nuggets of moments to whet their appetite. For fans of “The Godfather,” there are moments of recreation that feel heartwarming as well as interesting in retrospect because of the addition of context. At its core, “The Offer” is an entertaining 8-hours of storytelling with witty dialogues, moments of remembrance from the movie you remember, some callbacks and dialogues from the said movie inserted into actual conversations that are off-kilter, but it is compelling. Like the paperback non-fiction book with a blurb on its back, “A non-fiction book so outrageous, you won’t believe it is real.” A dramatization of true events compelling enough to be a binge-watch.
‘The Offer’ is a 2022 Biopic Drama series directed by Dexter Fletcher that revolves around the making of the 1972 iconic film, “The Godfather.” The no-spoiler review is based on the screener provided by Paramount. The series will officially stream on April 28, 2022, on Paramount+ and Voot Select (India).