Miniseries Review: The Offer (dir by Dexter Fletcher, Adam Arkin, Colin Bucksey, and Gwyneth Horder-Payton)

Almost despite myself, I enjoyed The Offer.

That may come as a surprise to some.  The Offer is a 10-hour miniseries about the making of The Godfather and how Hollywood politics aren’t really that much different from Mafia politics.  As anyone who has regularly read this site over the past few years should know, I absolutely love The Godfather.  It’s my favorite movie.  It’s a movie about which I’ve done a lot of personal research.  There’s very little about the making of The Godfather that I don’t know.  If we’re going to be honest, I’m probably a little bit of a snob about it.

So, like many people, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about The Offer.  It didn’t seem like something that was particularly necessary and it was hard for me to imagine how the miniseries would ever be able to convincingly cast anyone as Marlon Brando or Al Pacino or, for that matter, Francis Ford Coppola.  My skepticism only increased when I learned that the story was going to be told from the perspective of the film’s producer, Al Ruddy.  Everyone agrees that Ruddy was an important part of The Godfather team but he’s never been quite as compelling a figure as the brilliant but often self-destructive Brando or the neurotic but playful Pacino.  When people talk about what makes The Godfather such a brilliant film, they talk about the quotable dialogue.  They talk about the masterful performances.  They talk about Coppola’s skill as a storyteller.  They talk about the way that Gordon Willis lit the scenes so that the characters often seemed to be on the verge of being swallowed by their shadows.  They even talk about how Robert Evans insisted that the film could only be directed by an Italian and how Evans defied Paramount when the studio originally demanded that Coppola cut the film down to two hours.  When Al Ruddy is praised, it’s usually for staying out of the way.

I knew that I would have to watch The Offer eventually but I avoided it while it was actually airing and I made sure not to read anyone else’s opinion to it.  Despite my own obvious biases, I did want to try to maintain as open a mind as I possibly could.  That said, I wasn’t expecting much when I finally watched The Offer this weekend.

But, as I said at the start of this review, I enjoyed it.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a bit of a silly show.  If The Offer was a sitcom, it would be called Everybody Loves Ruddy because the main theme of the show seems to be that Al Ruddy (played by a miscast Miles Teller) was literally the most important man in the entire history of Hollywood.  There’s not a problem that Ruddy can’t solve, whether it’s convincing CBS to air a tasteless sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes or convincing Paramount to take a huge risk on a mercurial director named Coppola and an unknown actor named Pacino.  When gangster Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) tries to interfere with production, Ruddy befriends him and is soon a popular guy with the crew.  When Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) signs a contract with MGM, Ruddy puts the pressure on Paramount to find a way to get Pacino out of it.  When Coppola (Dan Fogler) has a fight with Gordon Willis (T.J. Thyne), Ruddy convinces them to make up.  When Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) goes on a coke binge, Ruddy snaps him out of it.  When …. well, you get the idea.  There’s nothing Al Ruddy can’t do!  When Evans mentioned that Henry Kissinger was coming to the Godfather premiere, I half expected Al Ruddy to negotiate a ceasefire in Vietnam.

From the start, The Offer is full of visual cues and dialogue that pay homage to not only The Godfather but the other films of the period.  The first line of the miniseries is Joe Colombo telling someone to, “Leave the cannoli.”  At first, I groaned but, slowly but surely, the show won me over.  By the end of the first episode, it was obvious that The Offer was not necessarily meant to be taken literally.  The Offer doesn’t tell the story of what Hollywood was really like in the late 60s and early 70s.  Instead, it tells the story of how people like me, who were born a few decades too late, imagine it was.  It’s less about the decade itself and more about how that decade continues to fascinate us and spark our imagination.  In our imagination, Robert Evans is snorting coke in his office, Ali MacGraw is lounging by the pool, Frank Sinatra is making angry phone calls to Joe Colombo, Al Pacino is so nervous that he can’t look anyone in the eye, and Marlon Brando is wandering around his mansion in a kimono and talking about how he can’t get anyone to see his latest, politically-charged film.  In our fantasies, it only makes sense that Evans and his assistant Peter Bart (Josh Zuckerman) would spend all of their time dropping titles of well-regarded, still-remembered films because why would anyone fantasize about them discussing a film that was forgotten?  And, of course, no one is going to fantasize about people discussing some actor who was briefly big in 1972 and then spent the rest of their career on television.  Instead, in the fantasy, it’s all about Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor, and Marlon Brando.  It also makes sense that only classic 70s music would be heard in the background of every scene because, seriously, who ever fantasizes about a bad song playing at a party?

Once it is accepted that it is all meant to be a fantasy, it becomes much easier to appreciate The Offer for what it is, a gossipy, Hollywood story with a Mafia subplot and an overabundance period detail.  Once the viewer accepts The Offer is a fantasy, the viewer is freed up to appreciate the 70s-chic wardrobe.  Once the viewer gets past the fact that the cast is playing characters based on actual people, it becomes much easier to appreciate the performances of character actors like Colin Hanks (who plays an uptight executive) and Burn Gorman (who plays the notoriously eccentric businessman, Charles Bluhdorn).  Patrick Gallo is slyly funny as Mario Puzo while Dan Fogler does a credible enough job as Coppola, even if he never quite captures Coppola’s larger-than-life persona.  Even Lou Ferrigno gets a nice bit, playing a mob enforcer turned unwilling actor.  At the center of it all is the absolutely brilliant Matthew Goode, giving a charismatic performance as the brilliant but sometimes unstable Robert Evans.

As a history, The Offer won’t win any points for accuracy.  But, as a fantasy, it’s undeniably entertaining.  It’s not so much the story of how The Godfather was made but the story of how we wish it was made.

Music Video of the Day: A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harum (1970, dir by ????)

This is an alternative version of the better-known video for A Whiter Shade of Pale. This song shows up in a lot of movie and shows, most recently in The Offer. When Al Ruddy walks through Times Square after Al Pacino says that he can’t do The Godfather, this is the song playing.