As the hero we are stuck with, Teller is humorless and stiff, even when his character is telling jokes. He’s then joined by a whole circus of strange embodiments and performances that would fare better if “The Offer” were something of a parody. Sometimes the actors have fun with their tough gigs, like Matthew Goode going extra nasal as classic Hollywood producer Robert Evans, showing the eccentric, often prissy way of business that we now apparently look on with nostalgia. Other actors are trapped, like the guys who play Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) and Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers), who physically resemble their legends enough but are not loved back by the plotting. Then there are talents like Dan Fogler, who is so good at his own version of a laser-focused Francis Ford Coppola that you wish his embodiment could thrive elsewhere.
“The Offer” can’t tell how funny it should be in showing the absurd juggling act of casting actors, securing locations, etc., and you can sense that in a weak subplot about the Italian American response to someone making a movie out of Mario Puzo’s novel. Giovanni Ribisi, with a stretched face and a frog in his throat, plays mafioso Joe Colombo, who leads intimidation efforts encouraged in part by Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes). Ribisi looks completely lost, and his sad-clown performance takes up an awkward amount of space as “The Offer” pays dues to the shadier parts of the film’s origins, like how Evans and Ruddy were threatened to shut the film’s production down or else. These parts give the story some life and death stakes, but it’s far from making us more involved.
With many scenes set on the Paramount studio lot, which includes a gargantuan backdrop of clouds, “The Offer” focuses also on the studio’s travails in the 1970s, related to how Evans gave them a rare hit with Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story.” This is paired with an emphasis on the women behind the scenes who helped influence the creative decisions (Juno Temple’s Bettye McCart), which is more recognition of women in producing than we normally get from 1970s Hollywood history books. But it plays more like lip service, the same with any inserted moment it has Ruddy musing about the unmatched glory of the cinematic experience, as part of his motivation to be a producer. Yeah, sure.