TV miniseries review: The Offer (Paramount+, 2022)
tl;dr: THIS IS AMAZING AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
Based on producer Albert S Ruddy’s experiences of making the cinematic classic The Godfather is a miniseries that shows us just how difficult getting Mario Puzo’s bestseller onto the silver screen was. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
We start with Albert S Ruddy (Miles Teller), cubicle drone at a computer company. He wants to get into show business and manages to successfully pitch a TV show, Hogan’s Heroes. Wanting to do more than a TV sitcom, he goes to the Paramount studio lot and ambushes studio head Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) into getting him a job. Impressed with the young man’s sheer guts, Evans decides to take him on.
Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) is a struggling writer. His wife suggests that maybe he should write about the kind of people he grew up around, and so he starts work on a new novel, The Godfather. The novel is picked up and becomes a bestseller, with Paramount optioning it, but the studio doesn’t really know what to do with it. Do people really want to see a gangster film?
Ruddy sees an opportunity, and because he has cojones the size of beach balls, he really goes for it. Writer-director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) has been struggling too recently, but what if he was to direct it? He certainly has a unique vision for the project, and wants to do it. Maybe he and – this is unheard of – the author could get together and write the script?
At the same time, Ruddy has to fight the people holding Paramount’s purse strings at parent company Gulf & Western, i.e. straight-laced Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks), who doesn’t think the film is a good idea, and company boss Charles Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), an eccentric Austrian. Fortunately, Ruddy has found a great assistant, Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple), to help. And boy, does he need help.
The problem isn’t just with the studio and the parent company, but a whole host of people who think the film will be defamatory to Italian-Americans, and who doesn’t want the film being made. Critics include New York congressman Mario Biaggi (Danny Nucci) and Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes) … and the actual Cosa Nostra themselves. If you’ve read or heard stories about how the word “Mafia” isn’t uttered in the film to placate the actual mafia? Yeah, let’s just say there’s a reason for that.
The funny thing was that I was looking at what to watch on Paramount+, which launched here in the UK on 22 June 2022 and that we currently have access to through an exceedingly good offer on Sky Cinema (P+ is included, or if you don’t have Sky Cinema you can subscribe separately), and I was choosing between The Offer and finally getting to see the Ray Donovan Movie. In the end I went with The Offer, because one episode was shorter than a film … and three episodes later it was something like 1am and I figured if I didn’t stop there, I’d be up all night binge watching. So much for an episode being shorter than a film!
The Offer is a period piece – early 1970s. It has behind the scenes of a film being made, and I love that kind of thing. It’s about cinematic history, which, hello, yes please. Add in a good dose of (dark) comedy, and it gets better and better. Top it off with a side plot of New York Mafia history and turn it into a kind of part dramedy, part gangster show, part documentary, part underdog story, and it’s amazing.
Like, for instance, you have the Commission, with people like Carlo Gambino (Anthony Skordi) and Tommy Lucchese (Michael Rispoli). They have their own problems quite separate from some Hollywood types wanting to make a movie. “Crazy” Joe Gallo (Joseph Russo) has just been released from jail and he’s not happy with his Family’s new management, Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi). Colombo, on the other hand, the latest addition to the Commission, is also sort of involved in the making of The Godfather, being a staunch supporter of it. He even has one of his guys, Caesar (Jake Cannavale), at the filmmakers’ disposal.
Not that long ago I was wondering whatever happened to Giovanni Ribisi, and then he shows up here as the Colombo Family crime boss, evoking memories of Stephen Graham as Al Capone (Boardwalk Empire) while also being kind of reminiscent of Brando’s Don Corleone. I’m into it.
Trying to get people to not want to stop your film from ever happening is one thing. The second is trying to find actors the studio and the financiers will accept. Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers) is expensive and has a reputation for being a diva on set and his last few films have tanked. Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito), a soft spoken and kind of shy young man who has only done theatre, is perfect for the role of Michael Corleone, but the higher-ups hate him and want James Caan (Damian Conrad-Davis) instead – even though he’s not even Italian. Problem after problem mounts, but with the gumption of Ruddy and Bettye, there is seemingly no problem they can’t overcome somehow. Like when Luca Brasi’s original actor is suddenly indisposed, they end up using one of Colombo’s muscle men (Lou Ferrigno) to stay on schedule.
Everything is conspiring against the making of this film, and yet they all carry on, and that’s why I couldn’t stop watching. Ruddy had a courage and determination that you can’t help but applaud. I loved Bettye as a character, she’s like a force of nature, a problem-solver extraordinaire. She’s probably more of a fixer than an assistant. I also loved to see actors playing famous actors from the past – both ones from The Godfather as well as others. If the portrayals are accurate or not I haven’t got a clue, but the ones I’m familiar with have a good amount of likeness.
Robert Evans was married to actress Ali MacGraw (Meredith Garretson), and their relationship is part of the drama, as is Ruddy’s relationship with hotelier Francoise Glazer (Nora Arnezeder), but romance has to take a back seat when you make one of the best films ever made. Did they need to be included? Perhaps not, but it explained why Evans went off the rails and disappeared from the project for a while, and how unsustainable the working pace was for Ruddy, because he didn’t have a life while making the film. Everything was The Godfather 24/7 until it hit the screens.
The best thing about it is of course that you know how it all turns out – The Godfather is clearly out there, it’s highly acclaimed, everyone knows about it, and “an offer you can’t refuse” is an iconic line whether you’ve seen the film or not. We sit watching The Offer fully knowing they’re making a masterpiece, so how close it comes to being ruined adds an extra dimension. We take for granted that they went to Sicily to film, but the circumstances around it, how it almost never happened, and when it did, how close it came to not making the final cut because some studio exec thought he knew best?
It’s because of renegade filmmakers like Ruddy and Coppola that we are able to watch the variety of films we can watch today. And at the same time it’s sad because studio execs are clearly still very twitchy and prefer “safe bets” over taking a chance on something that’s risky but that might go down in cinematic history books. Not to mention it wasn’t new back then either – what happened to The Magnificent Ambersons in the 1940s springs to mind.
To summarise, The Offer is highly addictive, and I’m sad there won’t be a follow-up, because I’m guessing making the sequel wasn’t as fraught with issues considering the immense success of the first one. But on the plus side, it gave me a new appreciation for the film and made me read the book.
5 out of 5 sleepless nights.