One of my most anticipated movies of the year which takes a journey back to the heyday of the Hollywood film studios and their bevy of stars who lit up the movie screens. The Coen Brothers’ latest film, Hail Caesar!, still has its stars acting aces, production values that wow, but not much to laud with a tiresome plot that barely comes together.
The film revolves around a Hollywood mogul Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who is hired to help fix the troubled production of a Hollywood epic known as “Hail, Caesar!.” The film stars the famous Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who winds up being drugged on-set and kidnapped by a radical group of communists that call themselves “The Future.” Mannix is tasked with giving the group $100,000 in exchange for his star actor.
The film industry, so replete with the weirdos and sleazeballs that are the Coens’ bread and butter, may have been too broad a target for them to make much of an impact. The oddest thing about Hail, Ceasar is how frequently characters make verbal reference to the film industry as a circus full of eccentrics in need of babysitting, as the playback itself feels disconcertingly… well…dull. We could forgive the rampantly incohesive bevy of subplots, and seemingly unintentional slew of film history inconsistencies and anachronisms (for a film championing classical Hollywood, the Coens sure seemingly didn’t do much research…) were there a core plot strand, or classic Coen lead, for everything to rally behind, a-la Lebowski. Instead, most of the characters we spend the most time tromping around the backstage lots with with – Brolin’s growly Eddie Mannix, Clooney’s mawkish superstar buffoon, even Tilda Swinton’s huffy twin gossip columnists – simply aren’t very interesting or engaging; they’re pale caricatures of characters done far more interestingly elsewhere, even elsewhere by the Coens themselves.
Still, there are some standout moments to revel: Tatum’s energetic six minute tongue- definitely-in-cheek dance number entitled “No Dames”, Johansson’s Busby Berkeley synchronized swim spoof, the scene with Francis McDormand as Calhoun the editor (which is the scene I laughed the most), Ehrenreich’s singing cowboy’s lack of intellectual sparring with the overtly sophisticated Fiennes. This ensemble creates vivid and interesting characters ready to leap to screwball heights but they are weighed down by a screenplay that misses so many golden opportunities to become a riotous comedy. The parodies are spot-on, but the plot is duller than need be.
Roger Deakins is once again behind the camera and once again delivers a stunning visual palate, but it doesn’t do much to help the movie from feeling dull and overall a disappointing effort from the Coen’s. Though it isn’t on the level of disappointing as The Ladykillers, it is far, FAR from being on the level of No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski.
Hail, Caesar! is a satire that lacks energy, conviction, characters, character development, focus, nearly everything that makes a good satire.
Hail, Ceaser! gets a 6.4/10.