Stories about Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather are as legendary as the film itself. Coppola’s 1972 adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name had to overcome battles over casting decisions, budget over-runs, threats from the Mafia and doubts about its commercial prospects.
In The Offer, Coppola isn’t the only one pulling teeth from an unsedated horse. The Voot Select web series suggests that The Godfather might never have been made if it weren’t for producer Albert S Ruddy. Even as Puzo (Patrick Gallo) and Coppola (Dan Fogler) bash out the screenplay, Ruddy (Miles Teller) moves mountains to get the picture made.
Ruddy is also one of The Offer’s producers, which explains the extraordinary screen time allotted to his character. The Offer has been produced by the television arm of Paramount Studios, which bankrolled The Godfather and its two sequels, and created by Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman). The writer is Michael Tolkin, who adapted his satirical novel about Hollywood, The Player, for Robert Altman’s film of the same name in 1992.
Unlike The Player, which skewered Hollywood’s shallowness and cynicism, The Offer is equal parts puff piece for Paramount, uncritical insider look and nostalgia trip for a time when studios took big risks in balancing creative freedom with moneymaking instincts.
Every time it looks like The Godfather will be stalled – which is in every other scene – individuals wheedle, bully and even lie to get what they want. Near-impossible acts of jugglery mark the journey from conception to completion.
The first leap of faith is taken by the debt-ridden Puzo, who, on his wife’s advice, decides to “fuck art and start typing” the saga of Mafiosi Don Corleone and his family. Although Paramount options the novel’s rights, not everyone at the studio is convinced that the adaptation will work.
Gangster movies are deemed dead on arrival. Paramount is starved of hits. And does the book stereotype the Italian-American community?
Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) certainly thinks so. As a Mafia boss and the founder of the Italian-American Civil Rights League, Colombo behaves like a Karni Sena member, using threats and more to interrupt the production.
When Ruddy isn’t trying to dodge Colombo, he’s talking his way out of stormy meetings at Paramount. Studio head Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) vehemently objects to casting a then-known Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), the head of Paramount’s owner Gulf and Western, carps at budget requirements. Paramount executive Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks) warns Evans and Charles against indulging Ruddy and Coppola.
Fire Pacino! The film looks too dark! Marlon Brando is mumbling! Running parallel to never-ending developments at Paramount is Colombo’s dealings with other Mafiosi – a Godfather-type drama nested within the larger drama of protecting Coppola’s vision.
Coppola is only one of the many moving parts in The Offer. He’s portrayed by Dan Fogler as an overgrown and enthusiastic teddy bear. Coppola’s equation with the even tubbier Puzo, which is sealed over sinful meals and a shared Italian-American background, is one of the show’s more affecting relationships.
The most meaningful bond is between Ruddy and his omnipotent secretary Bettye McCartt, wonderfully played by Juno Temple. Often the smartest mind in the room, Bettye is an important female presence in an overwhelming alpha male world.
The Offer takes far too long to arrive at the same conclusion that might also be reached by Barry Levinson’s upcoming film on the making of The Godfather, starring Oscar Isaac as Coppola and Jake Gyllenhaal as Evans. An entertaining ensemble cast delivers the goods in a bloated and self-serving look at how movies used to be, and ought to be, made.
Matthew Goode’s flamboyance is as thick as his tan. His winking portrayal of Robert Evans matches Charles Bluhdorn’s thickly accented Burn Gorman, who develops a fondness for Bettye (fully consensual, of course, since MeToo is decades away according to this show).
The depictions of real-life actors border on mimicry, from Anthony Ippolito as Al Pacino to Justin Chambers, who looks more like Ricky Martin than Marlon Brando. The various Mafia personages appear to have watched The Godfather once too often.
Coppola’s artistic achievements get buried in the at-times parodic depiction of Hollywood hustle. Coppola is reduced to one of several players – not a bad thing in itself, given how films depend on teamwork. But a series that drags on for 10 episodes, some of them running into an hour each, fails to explain the creative choices that set The Godfather apart.
The dialogue doubles up as inspirational advice for anybody pursuing a career in showbiz. “Could I get fired? We both could but it’s worth it.” “We are not offering audiences a transaction, but an experience.”
To this, we might add a quote from the title of Peter Bogdanovich’s book of interviews with directors, Who the Devil Made It? We know the answer, but according to The Offer, the godfather of The Godfather is someone else.