As smooth operators go, The Offer’s rookie film producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) is up there with the best of them. And while the 10-part series suggests that Robert Evans (Matthew Goode), his boss at Paramount Studios, is perhaps still the master, Ruddy isn’t far behind. “You remind me of me,” Evans tells him, intending it as a compliment. And just as Ruddy won’t take no for an answer, neither will Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple), who persuades him to take her on as his secretary/personal assistant. All three have also been seduced by the magic of the movies.
The Offer, which has just completed its awkwardly staggered release on Paramount+ – an initial three-episode drop frustratingly followed by an erratic drip-feed of weekly instalments – is a dramatised account of the making of The Godfather. The Oscar-winning 1972 film, which was also made for Paramount, was adapted from the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo, produced by Ruddy, and directed and co-written (with Puzo) by Francis Ford Coppola. The series tracks the route it took from its initial conception as a worthwhile production through to the place it and those involved in making it now occupy in film history.
Both a ripping yarn and a behind-the-scenes drama about the unholy working relationship that developed between a group of Hollywood filmmakers and the Mafia, it’s the brainchild of two men who’ve been around the business for a long time. Michael Tolkin’s fascination with filmmaking first came to the fore with 1992’s The Player (adapted from his 1989 novel); and Leslie Greif, best known as a producer (his credits including Walker: Texas Ranger and Hatfields & McCoys), partnered with Ruddy in the Ruddy Greif Company during the early 1990s.
The series immerses itself in film lore and doesn’t shy away from the dangers involved in attaching familiar names in the film world to unfamiliar faces: Frank Sinatra (played by Frank John Hughes), Ali McGraw (Meredith Garretson), James Caan (Damian Conrad-Davis), Robert Redford (Billy Magnussen), Burt Reynolds (Brandon Sklenar), etc. Some of that it does successfully, some not.
Dan Fogler is terrific as Coppola, playing him as a youthfully determined, generously bearded artist-on-the-rise who knows exactly what he wants even if he’s not entirely sure how to go about getting it. The scenes in which he and the always-dishevelled Puzo (Patrick Gallo) – at least until he dons a snazzy outfit for the premiere – are transformed into a screenwriting odd couple are a highlight. Some of the casting, however, simply doesn’t work. Justin Chambers’ Marlon Brando might have been more effective if he’d had room to develop the character. And Anthony Ippolito underplays Al Pacino to such a degree that one is left wondering how on earth he’s going to acquire the actor’s on-screen charisma.
But there’s more to The Offer than glimpses of real-life characters and events, and there are two significantly different ways of assessing it. The first – and less rewarding – has to do with the accuracy (or otherwise) of its depiction of the people directly or indirectly involved in making The Godfather and its account of how it got to be made. More important, though, is how well the series works on its own terms as a drama: the skill of the storytelling; the quality of the filmmaking and the performances; the shaping of the material; the ideas that reverberate through it.
An abundance of books and magazine articles have dealt with the subject before, all offering variations on the same story. Among them are Jenny M. Jones’s The Annotated Godfather, first published in 2001, featuring the original screenplay and commentary by many of those involved (and reissued for the film’s 50th anniversary this year) and Vanity Fair writer Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, published late last year. There’s even a graphic novel, Ernest Lupinacci and Alex Ogle’s The Godfather Gang: In Hollywood, Everything is Personal, published in 2019 and given a “special thanks” in The Offer’s credits.