Hail, Caesar!

 photo hail_caesar_zps1yertdli.jpg photo starrating-2stars.jpgIn the Coen Brother’s latest, Josh Brolin is what is known as a fixer in Hollywood, that is a guy who works to keep actors’ scandals out of the press. The suppression of any information that could damage a star’s reputation was an important part of the studio system in the 1950s. So it’s a period piece. The time period gives the directors an opportunity to create this ode to old Hollywood. But the story is so diffuse and free-form that it evaporates from the mind. Somewhere along the the way, unmarried actress DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) becomes pregnant and star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is abducted, but those story developments are so neglected they barely register.

The Coens have managed to assemble an impressive cast. Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum all appear, many as versions of real life people. Only the Coen Brothers or possibly Wes Anderson could assemble an ensemble quite like this. Star gazers might be amused but, except for Tatum, they’re pretty much wasted. It’s telling when an unknown like Alden Ehrenreich is the actor that gets all the acclaim. Who? you ask. He’s appeared in a couple productions of note (Blue Jasmine, Stoker). However he’s never been so memorable as he is here playing Hobie Doyle, an “aw shucks” singing cowboy.

The Coens get a lot right, There’s send-ups of the escapist fare that Hollywood used to make at that time: westerns, musicals and grand epics with hundreds of extras. The movies within the movie are the purest part because they’re created with a lot of skill and panache. George Clooney is in a massively mounted Roman production that recalls Ben-Hur. There’s also a synchronized water ballet in the style that Esther Williams used to perform. It’s colorful. Channing Tatum even does a song and tap dance routine and the number is the single most enjoyable moment in the whole comedy. Of course it’s not sincere. The song “No Dames” presents a group of tap dancing sailors in a gently twisted spoof of On the Town.

None of the cinematic recreations of classic cinema are better than the real thing. As a recreation of a bygone era, they’re enjoyed as charming fluff. Yet there’s an acerbic aftertaste to the Coens’ view of Hollywood’s Golden Age that keeps this from being a loving tribute. There’s knowing little in-jokes too regarding how motion pictures are made.  A rabbi, a priest and a Protestant minister are hired to weigh in on Capitol Pictures’ depiction of Christ in a biblical epic. The studio wants to make sure the portrayal doesn’t offend. It’s a comical vignette. There are others, but not enough to justify this meandering story in search of a point.

There’s never any indication that this is building toward anything. Nothing of consequence happens. This is just a series of blackout gags stitched together and marketed as a feature film. Edited up and watched individually it might inspire some titters, but as a full-length movie it’s a mess…and a boring one at that. Hail, Caesar! is a largely unfocused affair highlighted by a few bright spots that would be better viewed as clips on a comedy video website like Funny or Die. Channing Tatum and Alden Ehrenreich save this from being a complete waste of time. It’s not the worst Coen brothers picture, but it’s close.

02-04-16

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32 Responses to “Hail, Caesar!”

  1. Agreed. I enjoyed some parts (especially “No Dames”) but I went in thinking it would be…funnier than what it was.

  2. Great review and thanks for the heads up. Not all of the Cohen bros. movies work for me and this sounds like a definite miss. I’ll probably still check it out when it’s out on video.

  3. Yeah, a scattered mess with half the cast as glorified cameos. I still enjoyed certain specific moments, but overall, it didn’t really add up to anything.

  4. Just got back in from seeing this, and read your review immediately beforehand. It may just be my initial reaction to this, but I have to say I’m in 100% agreement here. This is a movie that goes nowhere. Hugely disappointing for me. Maybe I’ll like it more in a day or so’s time but I doubt it.

    • My dislike for it has only grown over time. I can barely rememeber anything of note in it now.

      • I remember Frances McDormand’s tie getting caught in the projector as she showed Eddie a few dailies. That shit cracked me up. But that’s just one moment. I’d otherwise agree, nothing else memorable at all

  5. What a pity. I had high hopes for this one.

  6. Looks like most are saying that the entirety is nowhere as good as certain of the parts. Seems indisputable. And some of the star billings seemed to be for the sole purpose of having the names up on the marquess or posters to attract ‘ticket-buyers’.

    While the various story/plot lines do seem a meandering mess, as you so aptly described it – maybe the main story insn’t Cowboy Hobie and his inability to say six words, or DeeAnna’s pregnancy, or Mannix continuing struggle to keep the Thacker sisters at bay.

    Maybe the kidnapping/Communists angle, Mannix being unable to quit smoking, the frustrated director, and so forth are just some of the many issues on Mannix’s plate at any particular time.

    If we want more depth to the various strands – then we might not see the ‘possible’ intention of the Coens – that being that this was what a day in the life of the guy running the studio was like. Everday – there were issues – some got dealt with and some returned to see the light of another day.

    There was pressure on Mannix all the time – just on some days the pressure points werfe greater or less than the day before.

    I called this a film for film buffs rather than a film for film goers.

    • Josh Brolin is a major part, but yeah, most of the stars are barely in this film.

      Your insightful read on the film makes me understand it more. Somehow as I was watching, that overall story thread didn’t materialize as a coherent narrative.

      Incidentally I am a huge film buff – particularly for the pictures of the 40s and 50s – the era this movie satirizes. I found their take on the period to be too contemptuous for anyone who truly loves those films.

      • I know that you love films Mark – so it is to be expected that you would see the flaws in H/C.

        Just wondering if you noticed the barkeeper or bar manager in the Channing Tatum sailor scene. He was the non-sailer, the one in civvies and chewing a cigar.

        Every time the camera found him, I flashed to Eugene Pallette – who surely you tremember from the 1939 Robin Hood (he was Friar Tuck), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Lady Eve.

        I figure he was a regular in Preston Sturges’s stable of character actors who normally rounded out the casts.

  7. I liked it a tad more than you but not much. Our scores were pretty close. You’re right. It is a mess and it feels like several really good scenes and several boring scenes stitched together with little to no attention given to an actual cohesive story. And so many characters and out-of-the-blue storylines are terribly shortchanged.

    • I walked in with sky high expectations. A period piece with that cast doing comedy promised something spectacular. Plus critical reviews are good. However general audiences have expressed sweeping hate for it – there’s a definite disconnect.

      Honestly if I take 4 or 5 segments out of this film and just watch them independently of the movie, I would enjoy those bits. I just didn’t want to suffer through 106 minutes to see them.

  8. Totally agree with you. There are simply no stakes and whatever story here is paper thin.

  9. Nice review Mark. I’m going to see Hail Caesar tomorrow but I think the overall consensus is that it’s a lesser Coen brothers movie. But I actually enjoyed the Coen brothers’ weaker works like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, at least more than others do, and I’m still excited to watch this.

  10. I may have been a little more generous, but I agree. This is piece of fluff that I believe the Coens wanted to make more important than it really is.

    Albeit, it is a semi-fun piece of fluff mainly with the movie within movie bits and a hilarious Alden, but it really does go nowhere.

  11. Oh boy. I was thrilled when I saw the trailer, but reviews have been lukewarm at best. It’s too bad, because what a great premise!

  12. Varghese Eapen Says:

    The twist involving Tatum was so laughable…excellent review, a big disappointment.

  13. I got a few laughs out of this one but I, too, fail to see any point to it. Thought the big laughs redeemed it for me, though.

  14. Aside from small parts by Channing Tatum and Scarlett. This was not good. Boring and scattered. 2 stars

  15. I almost completely disagree with this review! Im almost 50, and my dad is a film fanatic. So, as a child i saw many, many films from the silent era onward. Hail Caesar played with and mocked many old films and the audience i was with seemd to get all of those jokes. So, i thought it was a pretty good film. The first half is better than the second, and the scenes involving the communist plot tend to drag the film down. Otherwise it was more like a 4-star than a 2-star, but only for people of a certain age and background.

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