Hail, Caesar!, a movie by the dynamic director duo Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men, True Grit, Miller’s Crossing), misses the mark on both grandeur and comedy. Roger Deakins beautiful cinematography is a facade, a rose tinted frame that when removed, reveals a film severely deficient in plot. The funny thing I’ve noticed about some reviews including Rotten Tomatoes general review is that it’s been called a ‘love-letter’ to the old age Hollywood, which reminds me of The Artist which had a similar description. In the former, the term is really quite a joke. Hail Caesar might have had the right ideas of paying homage to what Hollywood might have been like, entertaining as it was comically self-aware and decadent, but it’s approach was scattered all over the place. Josh Brolin’s story might have been of some interest, but Hail Caesar’s reliance on it’s prestige cast and swagger isn’t enough to justify a movie that looks like it’s been stitched up from parts that don’t fit. Yeah I was like Baird Whitlock (below) for half the time, giving a sort of half agonizing-half annoyed expression that showed my obvious contempt 😛
Hail Caesar!’s most definitive story comes from Eddie Mannix played by the ever talented Josh Brolin. Josh Brolin’s one of my favourite working actors because of his subtle acting nuances…or maybe it’s just his badass style. He was, by far, the best part about the film. His struggle to manage all the turmoil that’s been happening ecently leads to a test of faith and will which is nicely concluded at the end. There was something missing though, and you can’t help but feel like it’s a lacklustre effort from the Coens. They could have built it more around Mannix, cut away the uneccessary random moments and keep the story tight. The Coens instead opted for a parody of sorts, poking fun at the pompous nature of Hollywood in the 50’s, having Burt (Channing Tatum) frolick around having a gay ol time etc…while attempting to provide justification for the industry in the form of Mannix contemplating in the confession room of a church. Or a fancy chinese restaurant. It all feels too simple. The resolution feels forced, moments don’t inspire meaning and Baird Whitlock(George Clooney)’s side plot is more of an easy distraction than anything significant.
More important than anything else though is a film’s ability to entertain. Other than the sparse moments where it was actually funny, the rest of it felt like a combination between a snooze-fest and a transient portrayal of life in Hollywood. The second point is worrying. The Coens have a knack for producing great imagess, scenes that stand out like a red blizzard in the snow, or more accurately, small talk about coin flips that turn into a humourously insipid game of fate (see below a clip from 2007 Best Picture Winner, No Country For Old Men, SPOILER ALERT).
None of that is found here. If you ask me to describe a scene perfectly, I simply can’t. Scarlett Johansson and the mermaids synchronized performance was beautiful but left me feeling like it’s a scene from a water show.
The Coen Brother’s might have been better off directing a straight up full-blown comedy or sticking to the their strength in pure nilhilistic drama. They could even have paid homage to Hollywood’s past with something that’s actually a proper story. But in being none of these, instead choosing to be too wry to the point where satire flials and flutters around with no direction, Hail Caesar!’s stellar cast and crew feels underused and all the more underwhelming. Three words; Lights. Camera. Abysmal.