As a new subscriber to Paramount+ due to the disappointing HALO TV series, I wanted to give the streamer another chance and keep scrolling in their portfolio, just to see what’s up. As most of you might know, Paramount has a rich history and an impressive movie collection. Home of Star Trek and such classics as Chinatown (1974) and the Indiana Jones franchise, this studio is also the birthplace of The Godfather, referred to by most in the industry as the best Hollywood movie of all time (Part I and Part II at least). Subject to debate today as many like to point out Citizen Kane‘s (1941) contribution to cinema, it is still a masterful film to this day.
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the first movie, released in 1972, Paramount had an ingenious idea for Paramount+ subscribers…in the form of a limited TV series. Indeed, they have decided to make a story out of the production and behind-the-scenes of the iconic film by exploring the challenges that Paramount, director Francis Ford Coppola and producer Albert S. Ruddy had in order to adapt this controversial book to the big screen. Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic biography of the old Hollywood, Once upon a time in…Hollywood (2019) will be pleased, as this follows quite the same narrative dynamic and time period. This was a new era for movie making at the time, let’s just say we don’t make them like that anymore.
Based on the memoirs of Albert Ruddy about his experience producing The Godfather, let me make you an offer you can’t refuse!
This is 1970s Hollywood. As the Golden Era of genre cinema comes to an end, the big movie studios are at a crossroads in their attempts to break even on their investments in big-budget movies. Paramount, for instance, is trying to prove to its parent company, Gulf & Western, that it can still be highly profitable with “auteur” movies now that the action heroes of the 50s and 60s, like John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, are a dying breed (something that is deeply explored in Once upon a time in…Hollywood). Young Producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) is on the hunt for his next project and is begging the current Senior Vice-President of Paramount Studios, Bob Evans (Matthew Goode, dynamite) to give him a film to produce. Persuaded by his entourage to adapt the new best-seller book The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Evans will give it to Ruddy, which will prove to be easier said than done. Alongside his charming and highly skilled assistant Bettye (Juno Temple), Al will start assembling his team, which includes Puzo himself as the scriptwriter for the movie and, of course, legendary director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler, great casting choice). After they finish adapting the book to the big screen with a completed script, they will go on the hunt for the cast, including a shy young theatre unknown named Al Pacino and a weirdo veteran named Marlon Brando.
One small problem…the Italian American League, led by mobster Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) and backed by the New York mafia and a certain Frank Sinatra, is not too pleased with Mario Puzo’s book and how their people are portrayed in the story. They will do anything to stop the production of The Godfather to the big screen, making Ruddy’s job a lot more difficult. So, as you can see, producing this masterpiece was no walk in the park and Paramount tried to pull the plug multiple times due to delays, disappointing dailies, risky actors…and the implication of the mafia.
Before I discuss the behind-the-scenes of the production of The Godfather in more detail, I need to talk about the casting of this show. I lift my hat to the actors and actresses, what a fine selection! You can tell that all of them are having fun and great chemistry on this set, especially for British actor Matthew Goode as the excentric Bob Evans. Dan Fogler looks like he was born playing Francis Ford Coppola (he is identical to the man) and Giovanni Ribisi as Joe Colombo is the perfect mobster. As for Miles Teller, he remains a comforting character in this overall ensemble of colourful personas; he is the anchor and the reason why this movie worked as it did. This is a fun period piece and I’m pretty sure everyone had a blast re-exploring some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history and how they were made. The story of the filmmakers themselves, scene per scene, is an interesting echo of some of the iconic scenes of The Godfather, it’s unmistakable.
Same for the overall production quality of the show. The props masters, costume and set designers replicated 1970s Hollywood in fine detail. Even though we imagined that a series based on the production of a movie would mostly include scenes on location, on the set of the film, The Offer actually takes liberties and moves around quite a bit. One day we’re in Los Angeles on the Paramount lot or near a pool discussing the script, another day we’re witnessing mafia shootouts in the street of New York City, and we’re even in the corporate offices of the executives who made it happen. Shout out to actor Burn Gorman (you may recognize him from The Dark Knight Rises and Game of Thrones) for his explosive interpretation of Charles Bludhorn, the Chairman and CEO of Gulf & Western, a scene-stealer every time there is a negotiation at hand!
There are a lot of things that the show does well, namely how to flesh out the job of a producer, in all its glory, but also in all its inconvenience. Contrary to the director who handles all departments to produce the desired end result in front of the camera, the producer is the “problem solver” for everything that happens behind the camera. Working in the movie business is often depicted as glamourous and exciting, but the truth is, it is an incredibly challenging and ‘down-to-earth’ environment. Al Ruddy’s cool and relaxed attitude is a front for the sheer panic and stress in his head, namely the constant negotiation process that made the shooting of The Godfather so difficult. At the time, when it was still possible to have just one Producer attached to a motion picture, Ruddy was a cool cat and his attitude, especially towards the involuntary implication of the Italian mob in the project, proved useful for the overall success of the production. On that note, the growing relationship between Ruddy and Joe Colombo is one of the most interesting aspects of the show, considering their highly different backgrounds and life choices.
In a men’s industry at that time (it is the early 70s), you will still notice that the female characters are extremely strong and capable in this environment, which proves inspiring. The perfect example is Juno Temple’s character: Bettye. As the Executive Assistant to Ruddy, she is often used as a ‘tool’ of negotiation as her superior sends her to have drinks with senior executives at Gulf & Western (Colin Hanks and Burn Gorman) in order to get more money for the budget and special favours. That being said, she is not blind to this, and will also use her charm to her advantage. It’s crazy to think that, at the time (and maybe it is still the case today), every deal seems to be made while having drinks or doing blow while on the phone. Fair to say, drugs and alcohol were involved while making this masterpiece…and pasta sauce with red wine in it (I’m sure you’ll understand the reference).
The true fanatics of The Godfather will appreciate the references to well-known rumours about the making of certain scenes, which is always fun (as I am one). For example, some of you may learn that the first scene of the film was actually pretty hard to shoot from a sound recording perspective because of a cat that Marlon Brandon brought on set that couldn’t stop purring, or that the decapitated horse’s head in the bed was actually real and even that the actor who played Carlo (Gianni Russo in real life) was vulgar and disrespectful on set, encouraging actor James Caan (who played Sonny Corleone) to actually beat him up in their famous encounter in the streets of New York. Let’s also not forget Coppola’s well known interest in good wine (he has his own vineyard today). There are multiple winks like this in the show, and they are most welcome.
All in all, The Offer is a great find on Paramount+! As it is not action-heavy but quite busy with Hollywood industry gossips, work slang and cultural references to an iconic film, I wouldn’t consider this to be accessible mass entertainment for regular Netflix binge-watchers. That being said, similar to the way I reviewed Mank by David Fincher back in 2020, if you recognize yourself as a true cinema fan that is passionate about how movies, shows and entertainment pieces are made, this is the show for you. Both funny and dramatic at times, well-acted and well-written, it’s a small joy ride for us geeks who miss the time when Hollywood cherished the seventh art for (and only) the big screen.
The Offer is available on Paramount + and all 10 episodes are now available.
OVERALL GRADE: 8.5/10