Though it was overshadowed to the point of being almost lost in the madness of the slap that preceded it, this year's Academy Awards took a moment to pay tribute to The Godfather on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Only three men took the stage to commemorate the occasion: director Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino (who appeared in all three Godfather films), and Robert De Niro, who played the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. After remarking that such moments "should be sincere and brief," Coppola thanked two departed collaborators: Mario Puzo, the author of the novel and Coppola's co-writer on the films' screenplays, and producer Robert Evans, whom Coppola admitted never having thanked publicly before.
There's more to the story. Coppola and Evans had a famously contentious relationship, both during the making of The Godfather and in later years, when their collaboration on The Cotton Club threatened to blow up their careers. That Coppola took a moment to acknowledge Evans felt like a coda to their clashes. But it also helped puncture the idea that The Godfather, or any movie, great or otherwise, was the product of a single artist willing it into the world. Film isn't just a collaborative medium, it's a medium that only works with the right bunch of collaborators.
The Offer, Paramount+'s 10-part miniseries about the making of The Godfather, burnishes history and takes a lot of poetic license. (Spoilers for a 50-year-old movie and a 50-year-old crime: Gangster Joe Gallo was gunned down in the middle of the night, not during the day and blocks away from the spot where Coppola was filming the attempted assassination of Vito Corleone.) But a strict adherence to facts is for making-of documentaries and books like Mark Seal's very good recent Godfather history Take the Cannoli. In a purely fact-checking sense, The Offer doesn't get everything right. But as a story of a gang of misfits banding together to accomplish something none of them could do alone, it's a nicely acted and frequently involving (if hyperextended) bit of storytelling.
The primary misfit is Albert Ruddy, played with a low voice and a resting scowl seemingly inspired by Robert Mitchum by Miles Teller. Though steadily employed as a programmer at the Rand Corporation, Ruddy dreams of a job in the world of entertainment and uses his gift for persuasion to sell a seemingly beyond tasteless-sounding series called Hogan's Heroes, a comedy about a German POW camp and the intrepid prisoners who live there, to CBS. With that hit under his belt, he was on his way.
The Offer is taken from Ruddy's experiences making The Godfather, and not always to its benefit. Early episodes get bogged down, for instance, in the story of Ruddy's dissolving marriage and though Teller delivers a solid performance, he's rarely playing the most compelling character on the screen. But as the series progresses, that choice starts to make sense, letting Ruddy serve as the still, calm center for an expanding cast of executives, creative types, and gangsters. These include Juno Temple as Bettye McCartt, Ruddy's secretary who's just as key to getting the film made as her boss; Colin Hanks as the no-nonsense, business-minded exec Barry Lapidus, the villain of the piece, at least up to a point; and Giovanni Ribisi as Joe Colombo, a gangster who protests the film (at least at first) under the guise of fighting for Italian-American civil rights.
Weary-eyed and delivering his lines as if chewing on a wet washcloth, Ribisi gives one of The Offer's more entertaining performances, and might even have taken the prize if not for Matthew Goode's work as Evans. Goode recreates the celebrity producer's slick, charming cadence and million-watt smile down to the smallest detail, which is impressive. But it's his ability to capture the fragility beneath Evans' demeanor that allows him to give The Offer its oily heart. Rounding out the ensemble are Dan Fogler and Patrick Gallo as, respectively, Coppola and Puzo, both played as artists learning to swim in deeper waters than they'd ever reached before.
No stranger to the inner workings of Hollywood, Michael Tolkin, screenwriter of The Player, serves as the series' creator and showrunner. A few winky nods aside, like an early cannoli reference, he mostly keeps the focus on the characters, who grow more endearing and familiar once the series starts rolling along and gets the necessary introductions out of the way. When the series does try to make a statement about show business, it tends to be a bit too on the nose, like a later-episode Lapidus speech about giving the audience what they want, never mind the art. It's better in moments like a scene depicting the first screening of the finished film, when Ruddy and Coppola realize their hard work and worry has all been worth it. As a Hollywood history lesson, The Offer makes a lot of shortcuts. But as an ensemble buddy story, it's consistently charming.
Still, that charm can run a bit thin when spread over the 10 episodes that give The Offer a running time that matches the length of all three Godfather films combined. Though punctuated by dramatic moments, like the attempted assassination of Colombo, it mostly chugs pleasantly along, dispensing bits of trivia when letting the characters work through individual crises, and attempting to generate suspense about whether the movie will all fall apart before its premiere. It doesn't, of course, but the best moments of The Offer make that seem like a miracle made possible only by the right people finding each other at the right time and knowing when to push and when to stand back and let the art do its work.
Premieres: Thursday, April 28 on Paramount+. Two episodes will be available to begin, with the remaining five to follow weekly
Who's in it: Miles Teller, Juno Temple, Matthew Goode
Who's behind it: Michael Tolkin
For fans of: Hollywood history, ensemble dramas, colorful performances
How many episodes we watched: 10