The latest venture of the Coen Brothers, acclaimed directors of No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski and True Grit, tries its hand at turning the inner workings of a 1950s movie studio into a satirical comedy on the time period, film and filmmaking. Hail, Caesar! Follows Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, producer and […]
The latest venture of the Coen Brothers, acclaimed directors of No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski and True Grit, tries its hand at turning the inner workings of a 1950s movie studio into a satirical comedy on the time period, film and filmmaking. Hail, Caesar! Follows Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, producer and fixer at Capitol Pictures as he struggles to sort out the problems at his studio. One of his leading men has been abducted, an actress has an extra baby with no father, an artsy director has been left with a Western Star who can’t act and all the while, as the stress builds up, he’s got an offer to go work for Lockheed on developing nuclear bombs.
The plot gets going quickly; too quickly, it could be said. George Clooney as Baird Whitlock is kidnapped before we even get to know him, but this decision lets us get to know him in the company of his kidnappers. Because the movie keeps up its rapid pace, there’s little time left to get to know the vast supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes as testy director Laurence Laurentz only appears in a handful of scenes. Scarlet Johansson as DeeAnna Moran makes just two appearances, and Frances McDormand as editor C.C. Calhoun is only in one short scene. There are just too many characters to fit into one movie.
If there’s one thing Hail, Caesar! is trying to do, it is to pay tribute to the classic movies of this age: mostly picking up notes from Ben-Hur, The Robe and Quo Vadis. They absolutely nailed the technicolour look. Technicolour was a hideously complex method of making colour film and it was gorgeous to see those vivid colours on the big screen.
But the writing was nonsensical, hard to follow and rushed. Yet, because this is a Coen Brothers film it’s hard to say that bad writing detracts from the overall picture. Without spoilers, it’s safe to say there is a reason within the context of the film why the film’s writing would be bad. Despite that, the actual story being told here is poor and uninteresting, commentary on filmmaking or not. At least all the subplots are tied up, but mostly through deus ex machinae.
It felt odd having the nuclear tests subplot here and there. Obviously, it formed the backdrop of the time period, along with communist scepticism, and was Mannix’s ‘out’ if he ever wanted to give in, but like everything else no time was spent on it to develop the subplot. It never looked like Brolin was at breaking point. He was supposedly working non-stop for nearly 30 hours without any indication he was fatigued.
The comedy on offer was mixed. A couple of scenes here and there were genuinely hilarious, but most of the film felt like it lacked something. Fiennes and Ehrenreich (as Western star Hobie Doyle) were brilliant, and their scene could have gone on and on and still have been funny – and it already goes on for a long time. While it ends abruptly, the punchline resurfaces later on and is all the more effective for it. Still, the rest needed more substance and less content.
At the end of the day, Hail, Caesar! just felt like it was missing something. This is not the sort of film you go to the cinema to see, it’s the kind of film you watch on Netflix when you’ve got nothing to do. In a decade while No Country for Old Men will be a classic, Hail, Caesar! will be forgotten, watched only in Coen Brothers marathons towards the end when everyone’s half asleep and giving up.
Hail, Caesar! is a better tribute to film than it is a film, and it’s a better film than it is a story. It’s not the worst film from the Coens, but it might be the most mediocre.