Review: ‘The Offer’ Is a ‘Godfather’ Origin Story You Can 100% Refuse

“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”—Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture

~[to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies]~

Come and listen to a story of a man named Bob
Runnin’ Par-a-mount Studios, that was his job
Needed a producer for a hot prop-er-ty
So he called up a guy by the name of Al Rud-dyyyyy…

This, unfortunately, is not the theme to The Offer. The creators behind the Paramount+ limited series about the making of The Godfather have opted for a bargain-basement redo of the Mad Men opening score, which aims for a ring-a-ding sense of guys behaving badly tinged with vintage glamour. In the spirit of truth in advertising, we wished they’d gone with something a little more sitcom-ish. A 10-episode megillah that charts the wild, crazy, stranger-than-fiction origin story of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) movies ever made, this Seventies flashback tries to hit a lot of marks at once: a biopic, a no-biz-like-showbiz tell-all, a backstage drama, a workplace farce, a meta-Mob epic, a “difficult men” antihero saga, a female empowerment parable, and a scrappy triumph-of-the-underdog tale slathered in flop sweat and canned spaghetti sauce. The only way it genuinely works, however, is as a parody of prestige TV. If the story of The Godfather‘s tumultuous birth and subsequent blockbuster success teaches us anything, it’s that victory can somehow defy the odds and be snatched from the jaws of defeat. This misbegotten attempt to revisit that project proves that the opposite is just as true in equal measures. It begins streaming on April 28th. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

It pays to remember that Evans quote up top, and not just because the legendary Paramount studio head — portrayed with equal parts oil and vinegar by Matthew Goode — is one of several major players jockeying for pole position. There’s also Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), the bestselling author who heeds Tinseltown’s siren call to adapt his novel; Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler), the bearded auteur brought in to provide Italian-American bona fides; Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), the crime boss and founder of the Italian-American Civil Rights league who goes from being an enemy to a key ally of the film; Charles Bludhorn (Halo’s Burn Gorman), the head of Gulf + Western who’s tearing his hair out over this runaway production; and Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks), a corporate executive who’s sick of these crazy kids trying to make a movie without sparing a thought for the bottom line! A host of peripheral characters, from Evans’ consigliere Peter Bart to a charismatic Colombo family thug named Caesar, move in and out of the picture as well.

No, that maxim about storytelling, memory, and the truth is particularly pertinent in regard to The Offer, because what sounds like an ensemble piece on paper is dominated by the “my side” perspective of one person, and one person only. It goes without saying that Al Ruddy was a key member of The Godfather‘s behind-the-scenes team — per the show, the former Rand corporation employee stumbled his way into making Hogan’s Heroes for CBS and then talked his way into producing what would become a landmark American movie. He’s also a producer on this series, and though The Offer name-checks Ernest Lupinacci’s book The Godfather Gang: In Hollywood, Everything Is Personal, the primary basis for this recounting is “Based on Al Ruddy’s experience making The Godfather.” According to this account, it’s Ruddy (Miles Teller), along with his loyal assistant/mover/shaker Bettye McCart (Juno Temple), who really got all the important shit done.

Ruddy was the one, we’re told, who came up with the wedding scene as the opening. Ruddy was the one who insisted Coppola was the only director who could make it work. Ruddy was the one who dodged Mickey Cohen’s bullets and made ethical compromises so they could shoot the Sicily sequences. Ruddy personally brokered every deal, and insisted Marlon Brando be cast, come hell or high water. Ruddy personally staved off a Mob war, and averted every possible disaster in the nick of time, and possibly invented a cure for cancer and probably saved the whales. A subplot involving a failed relationship paints Al less as an inattentive partner than a man married to his work — he’s got his demons and can be utterly horrible to friends and lovers, but baby, he’s so good at his job! (Does this sound familiar, TV viewers?) It’s genuinely surprising that the credits don’t list Teller’s co-stars as “Ruddy’s Director,” “Ruddy’s Star,” “Ruddy’s Boss,” “Ruddy’s Girlfriend,” and “Ruddy’s Mob Buddy.” This isn’t just a print-the-legend look at film history. It’s a Ruddyography that turns a perfect storm of collaborators into supporting players in the making of The Ruddfather.

All of this Ruddy-willing-and-able back-patting might have been acceptable one-sided revisionism, just another addition to the ever-growing cottage industry of Godfather lore — so much of which is studiously contradicted or outright ignored here (unsurprisingly, very few other firsthand participants were consulted) — if these 10 episodes had something else of note to, well, offer. But the elevation of Ruddy to the King Emperor of Corleone Mountain is surrounded by what seems to be an escalating number of bad choices and a complete lack of quality control. Say what you will about Ruddy, Evans, Colombo and Bludhorn: They were complicated characters, full of more than just sound and fury, and they’re reduced to one-dimensional archetypes here. Teller seems more M.I.A. than usual, which is saying something; he’s best when he’s paired with Temple, yet not even her patented salt-and-sass second-banana act can convince him to be fully present in their scenes together. (This guy should be the next Robert Mitchum, so why isn’t he?) Fogler’s Coppola is fine while failing to make much of a mark, and you pity the young actors forced to do impersonations of Brando, Pacino, Sinatra, etc.; that line from another beloved movie, regarding “a wax museum with a pulse,” comes to mind. Only Goode seems to be having any fun, strutting around as Hollywood royalty while wrapping everything in Evans’ patrician-with-a-head-cold voice. And even he sinks deep into the quicksand of The Offer‘s pandering New-Hollywood nostalgia.

Many of the well-known anecdotal marks get hit, from Ruddy’s one-sentence pitch to Bludhorn (“It’s an ice-cold thriller about people you love”) to Brando’s informal, transformative screen test, yet they’re strung together in a way that too often feels haphazard and flat. Michael Tolkin, who co-wrote and co-produced all 10 episodes, is no slouch when it comes to penning screenplays (The Player, the incredibly underrated The Rapture) or serialized storytelling (Escape at Dannemora). Which only makes the lazy use of wink-nudge references, random Godfather quotes and the endless recycling of chest-beating showbiz clichés — “We don’t play by the book, we write the fucking book!” “We can’t chase after what we think an audience wants to see, we’ve got to show the audience what it needs to see!” — that much more confounding. Every person will have their breaking point in this series, and for this writer, it’s a sequence in which someone spots an equine prop. “Horses are supposed to represent courage and freedom,” she says, “and to cut off its head… that’s America right there.”

It is, frankly, impossible to know whether we’re supposed to take those string of words in that order seriously, any more than we are The Offer mocking Paramount lackeys by declaring that a V-shaped composition of Corleones on a poster is a marketing “kiss of death”… and then proceeding to use the exact same formation on their own poster. Wonders truly never cease. There is such a rich story to be mined from the creation of a classic tale of family, crime, country, history, and the movies, and such a massive lost opportunity in what the folks behind this series have come up with. Memories shared serve each differently, yet everyone collectively remembers the making of The Godfather as inspiring a high point in American cinema. Now we can all say it’s also inspired a forgettable, God-awful low point in television.

2022-04-28 13:00:55