It’s probably unfair of me to be put off The Offer (Paramount+), about the making of The Godfather, by the memories of all those lads you meet in your late teens to mid-20s who use their knowledge of the film and its lore as a proxy for personality. Or at least it would be if The Offer didn’t play like it had been made entirely by and for them.
Everything anyone has ever known about The Godfather is here, lovingly recreated in whatever detail The Lore has deemed accurate. Here’s Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) gazing at the lines round the bookstore as people queue up to buy the groundbreaking gangster thriller he banged out to save himself from bankruptcy and a beating from the guys he owed money to. Here is a nervously unprepared Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) – he just skimmed the bestseller on the plane in! – pulling what would become his one-line pitch to the owner of Paramount out of the bag at the last second and convincing him to greenlight the film. “I’m going to make an ice-blue, terrifying film about people you love.” “That’s brilliant!” Here’s Sinatra (Frank John Hughes) berating Puzo in Chasen’s restaurant for basing the character of Johnny Fontane on him (though in this version, presumably for aesthetic reasons, he does look up from his plate while doing so. It spoils the sense of perfect contempt the oft-recounted tale conveys, but this way you get to see the actor’s face). Here’s Brando’s legendary not-a-screen-test screen test. And so on.
The rest is largely non-Godfather-specific cliches, as we are walked determinedly through the movie’s origin story. Puzo’s agent advises him to “write what you know! … Have you ever thought of writing a mafia book?”, which is up there with Titanic’s “Something Picasso?” scene for subtlety. Hard on its heels comes: “We can’t chase after what we think the audience wants to see. We’ve got to show the audience what it needs to see!”. And “We can’t play by the book – we write the fucking book!” arrives shortly thereafter, too. It’s as if someone gathered up discarded snippets of William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and Syd Field’s first drafts and pasted them into a loose-leaf binder and called it a script.
Over 10 hours (time in which, incidentally, you could watch all three Godfather movies AND make a start on the director’s commentary) we are shown how Paramount bought the rights to Puzo’s book cheaply, then found themselves with a desirable bit of IP on their hands when the book shot to the top of the charts and stayed there. But first it had to battle with the studio head to get it made (the last few gangster movies had been flops), find a director willing to take on the unfashionable subject matter (young up-and-comer Francis Ford Coppola is persuaded – “It’s a metaphor for capitalism, for the American dream!”) and then the latter must fight to realise his vision. All the while, the actual mafia take exception to their depiction in the book and set up the Italian-American Civil Rights League to prevent the film being made. Crumbs.
This is all rendered without making any effort to be a metaphor for anything. Nor to make the specific universal, or anything other than a hagiographic biopic of a revered film. It does give producer Al Ruddy a more prominent role than you might expect – he takes on a Forrest Gump air as more and more pivotal moments are brought about by him and him alone – which may have something to do with the fact that Ruddy is a producer on The Offer, too.
As we’re in Hollywood in the late 60s and early 70s, much of the action is set at industry parties where producers do deals and trade favours while stroking a variety of dolly birds. But because it’s also 2022, we have the Strong Female Character of Bettye McCartt (Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple) as Ruddy’s all-knowing secretary. She, alas, is not given much to do other than hastily fill her boss in on salient details about the business, love lives and credit records of the people he is about to meet on the way to meet them, and the charismatic, capable Temple remains underused.
That 10-hour spread could allow for a great story to be told about the movie business then and now, or about how hard and soft power operate in the world, or – yes – for an interrogation of the American dream and all its contradictions. Instead, everything is flattened – including the stars and the legendary characters like Robert Evans (though Matthew Goode does a fine job with what he’s given) – and squeezed into the sole role of mythologising once again an already thoroughly mythologised subject. Ryan Murphy meets Mad Men without the pile-driving storytelling of the former nor the lean, sinuous intelligence of the latter. Try harder, lads.