"The Godfather" is widely known as the best movie ever made. Now, in a new 10-part limited-series coming to Paramount+ (first three episodes available on Thursday, April 28th, with new episodes each Thursday to follow), "The Offer" looks to tell a story so juicy that fans of the movie couldn't possibly refuse it.
So what's it all about? Is it any good? I was able to view all ten episodes of the series, and I can tell you that it's a real trip...if you're a fan of "The Godfather," Hollywood, gangsters or even just movies in general, "The Offer" has lots to, well, offer, despite it's overall lack of focus.
Series Grade: B+
The making of "The Godfather" is now a thing of legends...and it's hard to believe that it just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The 1972 film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and starring Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton and a then unproven-and-widely-unknown Al Pacino, went on to earn 11 Oscar nominations, winning three, for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Marlon Brando (who famously sent Native American Sacheen Littlefeather in protest, to accept on his behalf). It's #2 on the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 movies of all time, behind only "Citizen Kane."
And it nearly didn't get made. In fact, that it ended up on-screen at all - not to mention how brilliant it is - is a miracle on its own.
"The Offer" centers on computer-programmer-turned-movie-producer, Albert Ruddy (Miles Teller), and how he brought "The Godfather" to life against all odds. The series is really a love-letter to movie-lovers, as it pulls back the curtain on Hollywood's Silver Age. The behind-the-scenes struggles at Paramount Pictures - then owned by the conglomerate Gulf & Western - are juxtaposed with the on-set struggles of director Francis Ford Coppola (played here by "Fantastic Beasts" star, Dan Fogler). whose artistic vision was being challenged at every turn. Then there's another complete facet, of Ruddy's relationship with New York Mob Boss, Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), who was tasked by the Mafia Commission to put an end to this film, lest it bring too much attention and heat to "this thing we do."
Of course, "The Godfather" began as a book, from struggling author Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo), who couldn't make ends meet before penning one of the most successful novels in history. The series begins by setting up where Puzo, Ruddy and all of the major players (like legendary producer and Head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans and Gulf & Western CEO, Charles Bluhdorn) were prior to "The Godfather" coming to being. It stretches - perhaps a bit too far - beyond the release of "The Godfather," the infamous Oscars, and into their follow-up projects (Ruddy's next film was the football comedy, "The Longest Yard" while Evans slid right into "Chinatown").
And while it starts a bit broad, it is actually loaded with Easter Eggs, tidbits, legend and lots of wild facts. Yes, Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes) did actually make a scene in an LA restaurant one night, mad about the similarities of the Johnny Fontaine character in the book to his own career...yes the studio fought tooth-and-nail to have Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) fired, convinced he wasn't a leading man...yes Connie's sleazeball husband, Carlo Gambino, was played by real-life sleazeball Anthony Skordi, who actually blackened Talia Shire's eye in one scene by hitting her...and apparently the actor who we now know in the iconic role of Luca Brazi, was actually a Colombo Family enforcer, brought in at the last minute when the chosen actor for the role died suddenly of a stroke (Lenny Montana is the actor who stepped in, played here by Lou Ferrigno).
These bits of film lore are sprinkled throughout all ten episodes, and they're delightful for anyone who knows "The Godfather" back-to-front like me or several others out there. If you have never seen "The Godfather" or don't know your Clemenzas from your Tessios, you won't quite "get" this series at all. Yes, it's made for those that are familiar, who worship these characters and who would become giddy to see the actual locations where scenes from the film were shot. Casual "The Godfather" fans need not apply.
The series purposely contains several echoes to the plot of the movie, where characters in the "real world" say things like "it's not personal, only business" and we're supposed to draw lines to those moments in the film. Some of this works better than other parts, which hit a bit too on-the-nose, or are a tad too obvious. But it moves along at a healthy pace, with some episodes focusing on the board room drama a bit more than the gangster stuff, and vice versa, but there's never a dull moment.
The very best part of watching "The Offer" is seeing actors portray other actors, that we all know and love. Wow, the casting here is fantastic! Anthony Ippolito for example, as Al Pacino, absolutely captures his nervousness and mannerisms perfectly. Josh Zuckerman as producer Peter Bart. Meredith Garretson as actress Ali MacGraw. Frank John Hughes as Frank Sinatra. And how about the amazing resemblance and performance by Justin Chambers as Marlon Brando, who is every bit the wise and eccentric superstar that we think he is?
Even two actors that I usually have issues with - Dan Fogler and Giovanni Ribisi - are quite good. Fogler has the look of Coppola nailed-down, however in his more excited moments he seems to turn into Dan Fogler. Ribisi seems to be over-acting, until you look up pictures of the real Joe Colombo and realize that he is the perfect fit...in fact, he melts away into the character by the second episode and ends up being one of the series' most memorable players.
I've saved the best for last. What a scene-stealing larger-than-life performance given here by Matthew Goode as Robert Evans. From the suits and the tinted-glasses that made him an icon, Goode embodies the role and the character is given the most interesting arc of anyone in the entire show. Just when you start to think that some of the dialogue in the series is a bit weak, you realize how strong Robert Evans is written and it's all forgiven. He's matched by Burn Gorman's Charles Bluhdorn, who becomes an endearing character and one of the show's highlights as well. Miles Teller is solid throughout, but his character doesn't seem as interesting when he is constantly sharing scenes with the likes of these other two. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Ted Lasso" favorite, Juno Temple as Ruddy's secretary, Bettye McCartt, who in her own right, went on to be one of the top agents in Hollywood.
One constant annoyance in the series is the presence of the pencil-pushing party-pooper, the accountant Barry Lapidus (Colin Hanks). He is a one-note budget-miser, who seems to exist to be a foil for the others and to remind the audience of the budget pressures they were all facing. I guess he's a needed force in the movie, but he just doesn't leap off of the screen like many of the others.
I've left soooooooo much out for you to discover for yourself. There are several more characters, plot twists and "wow" facts that reveal themselves along the way. I was all in on "The Offer," but then again I'm it's target audience: People who love movies or TV shows about movies and TV shows, who knows every frame of "The Godfather," and who can enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like learning that James Caan was really hitting Anthony Skordi with that trash can lid in that one scene, as payback for what he did to Talia Shire...on instruction from Albert Ruddy.
"The Offer," for me, was the Robert Evans and Charles Bluhdorn show...a real-life odd couple whose quirks and love of the craft created an environment - however chaotic it might have been - for a masterpiece like "The Godfather" to live, taking chances on people like Ruddy, Coppola and Pacino, to change the world. For them, it was both personal and business, and perhaps that's when decision-making is at its best. They carry "The Offer" through it's lows, and make a series that maybe should have been six-or-eight episodes feel worth it at ten-episodes long, if only because we get to spend more time with them in the backlot.
("The Offer" is a ten-part mini-series on Paramount+, with the first three episodes available on Thursday, April 28th, with episodes being released on concurrent Thursdays through June).
Looking for a specific movie or review?