The Offer–The Godfather nostalgia series delivers

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not every element of the new Paramount+ series The Offer is based in reality just doesn’t matter.  Fifty years ago Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather premiered in theaters across America and it’s maintained its status as one of cinema’s best films.  Viewers want all the crazy legends behind its creation to be real, including Frank Sinatra getting into a public argument with author Mario Puzo, and the mob getting irked by its very existence.  When you have to choose between legend and history in storytelling, give audiences whatever makes the better story.  And the story from the view of The Godfather producer Albert S. Ruddy is like reading the exploits of gangster Jimmy Alo in Dylan Struzan’s book A Bloody Business (reviewed here).  When an old bird is telling fish tales from decades ago–and he’s good at it–you just let him go (the character of Johnny Ola in The Godfather, Part II is based on Alo, so the comparison has some credence).  Only this limited television series has the kind of result that makes you wish it were a movie.  As peeks into Hollywood go, the acting, writing, direction, and production values are exactly as the streaming provider has been promising in its months long advance marketing.

The Offer has an impressive cast, and every actor gets to showcase their talent in practically every scene.  Stealing the scene from everyone he appears with is Matthew Goode (Watchmen) as studio exec Robert Evans, who seems like his entire career has been waiting for him to burst out with this massive character.  The unlikely duo of Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts) as The Godfather writer-director Coppola and Patrick Gallo (The Irishman) as Mario Puzo is this crazy, perfect pairing that begs for their own buddy comedy series (if only they weren’t based on real people).  And in the driver’s seat is Miles Teller (Fantastic Four, Top Gun: Maverick) playing the lead, producer Albert S. Ruddy.  Teller hasn’t appeared in a lot in the past five years, so seeing him as a mature actor after so many young roles is a refreshing surprise.  The guy really can act.

The creators of the series, which include actor Adam Arkin and Michael Tolin (the Oscar nominated screenwriter for Robert Altman’s The Player), know exactly what nostalgic buttons to push.  And what needs updated, like roles for two strong women players in Ruddy’s story.  That’s Juno Temple (Electric Dreams, The Dark Knight Rises, Maleficent)–a ringer for Rosanna Arquette–as assistant Bettye McCartt.  Temple shows with a unique brand of badassery why her real-life counterpart went on to become a powerhouse agent for the likes of Tom Selleck, Billy Dee Williams, George Clooney, and others.  The series’ best find may be Austrio-Egyptian French actress Nora Arnezeder as Ruddy’s girlfriend Francoise.  Arnezeder is a ringer for Madeleine Stowe in voice and appearance, and it’s strangely like we get to see a new career begin again for Stowe.  And keep an eye out for Resident Alien’s Meredith Garretson as Evans’ wife, actress Ali MacGraw–a surprise standout performance for such a minor role (at least in the first three episodes).  All three characters were part of Ruddy’s real-life experience.

But that’s not all.  Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Halo, The Man in the High Castle, Forever) is going to get an Oscar someday for his incredible range, here as CEO of Gulf+Western, Paramount’s parent company.  His oddball exec creation is perfect here.  And then there’s Giovanni Ribisi (Ted, Flight of the Phoenix, The Postman) as mob boss Joe Colombo.  Only three episodes into the series and you know that were this a movie Ribisi would be taking the supporting actor Oscar next spring.  This series is a far more enjoyable viewing experience than the recent direct-to-streaming mob flick The Irishman.

Always a fun addition, Colin Hanks (Orange County, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) plays a fictionalized exec who doesn’t get a lot to do, and viewers get to see Lou Ferrigno a few times as a bodyguard.

Some things don’t work.  The casting of Frank Sinatra doesn’t work at all.  And other things are superb, like Anthony Ippolito′s perfect mirror of a young Al Pacino, and the wheeling and dealing is spot-on.  And it doesn’t matter that much of this is contrived, that the real-life mob threat in the show doesn’t come close to the fictional violence and suspense of the film.  The re-imagining and re-filming of actual scenes from The Godfather is fun enough.

That fiftieth anniversary is netting more than one re-creation from Hollywood of the making of that movie.  Barry Levinson is directing Francis and The Godfather, a movie starring Oscar Isaac as Coppola, facing off against Jake Gyllenhaal as producer Evans, with Elle Fanning as Ali MacGraw, and Elisabeth Moss as Eleanor Coppola, who is not a key player in The Offer.  It began filming last year, so expect it in theaters or streaming by year end.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s an offer you can’t refuse, because it’s really good storytelling and actors in their stride.  If they can keep it up for seven more episodes, this limited series will sweep the Emmys.  The first three of ten episodes of The Offer are now streaming on Paramount+ with the rest airing weekly.  Don’t miss it.


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