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Is Godfather origin story The Offer too good to refuse?

For all its narcissism, Hollywood enjoys a handy strike rate when it looks in the mirror for inspiration.

From Sunset Boulevard to Bowfinger, you're hard-pressed to find a dud movie about the movies.

Often satire, intended or not, is a welcome by-product of the process because it's very difficult for the dream factory to turn its gaze on itself without at least something of a nod and wink to the inherent reality that we're talking about an industry based on adults playing dress-ups for a living.

Hollywood's saving grace from its silliness is the fact it's as much a generator of bleak failure as it is sparkling success.

Justin Chambers plays Marlon Brando in The Offer, Michael Tolkin's latest take on Tinseltown. Pictures: Paramount+

Justin Chambers plays Marlon Brando in The Offer, Michael Tolkin's latest take on Tinseltown. Pictures: Paramount+

One of the best cinematic examples of this West Coast pluralism is The Player, the 1992 film about a movie producer stalked by a homicidal screenwriter who kills the wrong guy only to end up living happily ever after with the victim's girlfriend. Robert Altman's movie drips with satire and the veteran director does more than justice to Michael Tolkin's novel and screenplay.

Unfortunately, a good deal of satire appears to have been sacrificed for sanctity in Tolkin's latest take on Tinseltown, a TV series about the making of that most masculine of films, The Godfather.

We find ourselves rooting for film producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) and his fiercely loyal and headstrong assistant Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple).

We find ourselves rooting for film producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) and his fiercely loyal and headstrong assistant Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple).

This may not be all Tolkin's doing. His creation is streaming on Paramount+, an offshoot of the very studio responsible for the famed mafia movie which made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, icons of its cast (or inflated their existing mystique) and recalibrated the trajectory of pop culture itself. As well as a bit of gratuitous logo placement, Paramount seems determined to use The Offer as a vehicle to intensify the mythology that has surrounded The Godfather ever since it hit cinemas in 1972.

You can't really blame a parent for being proud of its favourite child, but such is the level of piety in some sections of this hit-and-miss series, you sometimes wish they did away with the script, the actors and cool costumes and just called in Ken Burns to do a stripped-down doco version complete with crisp narration overlaying a few black and white photos from the set.

Patrick Gallo (Mario Puzo) and Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) become affectionate, bickering housemates as they work on the script.

Patrick Gallo (Mario Puzo) and Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler) become affectionate, bickering housemates as they work on the script.

Many such photos do exist and have been doing the rounds this year to mark a half century of the Corleones on celluloid. Among them is one of Robert Duvall covered in cue cards so Marlon Brando can remember his lines. Brando, who won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the titular patriarch, was notoriously difficult to direct in the film and his on-set antics add to the stuff of legend; the very reason chronicling the creation of The Godfather is such an enticing idea.

And although in telling this most fascinating of Hollywood stories The Offer is, in many places, slick, fun and funny, it falls victim to the fanboy fawning which has followed The Godfather all the way from underdog arthouse blockbuster to its current iteration asa triptych recurated by director Francis Ford Coppola ostensibly to paper over the failings of the final instalment, which forever soured the franchise's legacy.

While The Offer has moments where it is slick, fun and funny, it falls victim to fanboy fawning.

While The Offer has moments where it is slick, fun and funny, it falls victim to fanboy fawning.

In this way, The Offer shares similarities with the recent unctuous biopics about rock band Queen and Elton John, or even Martin Scorsese's unwieldy TV series Vinyl, a misguided collaboration with Mick Jagger to parcel up the 1970s music industry into empty calories of nostalgia.

As in The Player, Tolkin's protagonist in The Offer is a film producer, a slippery species at the best of times, so it's a minor miracle we find ourselves rooting mildly for Miles Teller's deep-throated version of industry mover and shaker Al Ruddy as he negotiates his way around a series of roadblocks to get The Godfather made. Among his many achievements, Ruddy co-created 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes. That series starred Bob Crane, whose unsavoury personal life would form the basis of 2002 film Auto Focus, the kind of nuanced true Hollywood story The Offer is trying hard to be.

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Some of the best surface-level enjoyment on offer in The Offer can be found in its casting. It's a delight to watch Dan Fogler's Coppola and Patrick Gallo's Mario Puzo become affectionate, bickering housemates as they eke out the fabled script, but such triumphs are countered by lesser attempts to capture luminaries like Frank Sinatra or Al Pacino (some have lauded Anthony Ippolito's mimicry, others may feel he's channelling Adam Sandler from Little Nicky more than the New York thespian).

Time and again, The Offer tells us a good movie producer, like a good gangster, will do whatever it takes to get the job done and as Ruddy rides the red-eye to cross palms in smoky speakeasies and sun-drenched boardrooms, we do get the sense those gritty, desperate days of the art of the deal are well and truly over.

Today, getting a big studio green light for a project depends more on social media and merch tie-ins than a passion for storytelling, so it's nice to be reminded that once upon a time in Hollywood, there were true champions out there fighting the good fight.

Ultimately, however, The Offer isn't too good to refuse.

This story Is The Offer too good to refuse? first appeared on The Canberra Times.