Not Quite Worth Hailing
By this time there is no disputing the Coen Brother’s position in film history. “No Country For Old Men”, “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, are all films that help cement that position. So, they can survive a bit of a dud like their latest film “Hail, Caesar!” Okay let me back up for a second. “Hail Caesar” tells the story (or stories) of this Hollywood fixer in a 24 hour day where he has to deal with a kidnapped film star, an actress getting pregnant, and a director having trouble with his new leading actor. The story is really a group of loosely connected storylines (and I’m using the word connected generously) at one studio that range from the mundane to the absolutely ridiculous.
The most trying and incredible thing about the Coen Brothers is they never make the same movie twice. There is always a fresh and unique experience (even in their lesser films). This makes “Hail, Caesar” a bit unique because they sort of have already covered old Hollywood with “Barton Fink”. Although then again this is a fair different experience then “Barton Fink”. This is a straight up comedy (unlike “Fink”). This isn’t particularly deep and the character arcs are pretty simple. That isn’t the issue though. “Hail, Caesar” seems like it’s wants to be a love letter to old classic cinema from the 1950s so bad that it forgot to stand on its own first.
It’s an area in film history that seems to be revisited quite a bit recently. “Hitchcock” and “Saving Mr. Banks” is set on the onset of this era, and “Trumbo” feels like it’s set right in the middle of the events here in “Hail, Caesar”. “Hail, Caesar” is set at an unspecified time but makes it clear that it’s sometime after World War II and around the dropping of the H-Bomb by the United States government. The backdrop is engrossing and the era feels genuine. This isn’t one of Roger Deakins’s most interesting looking films to date but he, along with the Coen brothers, do capture the era quite nicely.
This being said the movie’s story is almost nonexistent. This isn’t a case of a movie that doesn’t say much but has a lot to tell. I almost feel like the Coen Brothers had a couple of scenes they wanted to shoot but couldn’t fit it into any of their other movies. There are long scenes focused on things that only flesh out the setting but not the plot. There are two prolonged dance sequences that are very well put together but nearly nothing is done with them. Few laughs, and the characters don’t make much more of appearance outside of those scenes. So, whats the purpose?
Most of the headlining actors here are only in it for what feels like long cameos. Johan Hill is in one scene and doesn’t really do anything. Channing Tatum is good in those two scenes he is in, and Scarlet Johansson is also great….for the handful of scenes she is involved in. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was more of a main story arc.
The main constant is Josh Brolin. Brolin is the shinning standout in this movie. I’ve said in the past that I’m one of the few that believe Brolin can be a bit inconsistent. That being said when he brings it, he brings it. Brolin is outstanding in this film. He doesn’t have many emotional scene but he brings to life that old time caricature of Hollywood to life while adding his own comedic charm. Not all of his material works but you can see he is giving it his all.
I don’t want to make it seem like this movie is a complete wash, because there is some redeeming qualities throughout the movie. The first third of this movie is pretty funny. There is a fantastic scene with a group of religious figures discussing the nature of god and religion that is classic Coen brothers and is a standout here. The middle is where the movie completely drags out and. The third act picks up a bit again but it’s not enough to save the film.
I don’t regret seeing this and it’s clear that this was made with a lot of love and also craft. “Hail, Caesar” isn’t a bad film just a dull and mostly forgettable effort from a lot of talented people. “The Hateful Eight” is a much better example of a love letter to old Hollywood while still standing on its own as a unique experience. I just hope the next Coen Brothers film is just a little bit better than this one.