One way to label the new ambitious film from the Coen Brothers: a subtle doozy! Falling in line with their other distinguished films, Hail, Caesar! brilliantly depicts its setting, and is filled with memorable characters and wonderful performances, but surprisingly, it toes the line of too much and not enough. Taking place in early Hollywood, this unreserved mystery film (that’s painted as a comedy) is about a renowned actor who is kidnapped for a considerable ransom, and how the studio deals with the debacle.
As the subject matter would undoubtedly seem close to the heart of the Coen Brothers, they were able to design beautiful scenes filled with classic choreography and cinematography that are a real pleasure to watch, especially for film enthusiasts. As far as a story, the stakes were a bit low and the significance was somewhat lackluster. In other words, it’s a marvelously decent movie. Here’s a brief (and somewhat spoiler free) look at what worked, and what missed the mark.
First off (with no surprises), the acting as a whole is spectacular all the way down to the extremely brief cameos. The dynamically subtle Josh Brolin and the shamelessly compelling George Clooney naturally hold down the fort, with Brolin playing the studio’s head “fixit” executive Eddie Mannix, and Clooney as the recently kidnapped self-indulgent superstar Baird Whitlock. Notable performances in the supporting cast include Tilda Swinton’s duel role as twin entertainment journalists Thora and Thessaly Thacker, Ralph Fiennes as thespian film director Laurence Laurentz, and an under utilized Frances McDormand as an exceedingly blunt studio editor. The true standouts of the film however, were the somewhat up-and-coming Alden Ehrenreich playing the gifted but simple-minded rising star Hobie Doyle, and surprisingly (yet unsurprisingly) Channing Tatum as the triple threat extraordinaire Burt Gurney who maybe accomplished the greatest dance number in recent cinema.
Another extremely positive note is their unique balance of masterfully shot homages to classic cinema, and intimate plus insightful scenes of dialogue. One moment the film is a visual masterpiece full of elaborate song and dance numbers, and then it is tackling an early depiction of Hollywood’s stance on religion, politics, as well as public image. Their use of colors, angles, and film quality gives the film a personality itself in which certain scenes would be hard not to enjoy. This might make the movie sound classic, but there are definite flaws that could not go unnoticed.
The biggest issue with Hail, Caesar! would be the aimlessness of certain story elements and characters. Scarlett Johansen and Jonah Hill both gave adequate performances, but their roles in the film at some point almost seemed entirely pointless. Nobody was ever in any real danger, and some of the exchanges were more or less disrupting to the overall plot. It was almost as if the Coen Brothers had a list of ideas about early Hollywood and tried to figure out a story that could cohesively bring it all together.
However majestic the scenes were visually, some things were a bit too lengthy or wordy all the way to a point of distraction. There were times that the actions in the background would steal the focus because not enough was happening in the front. Some things happened too quickly and other things didn’t happen at all which by the end of the movie there was a feeling of insufficiency. Maybe it was due to a rather short runtime (compared to their other projects), but it would have been nice to get more rather than less when it came down to the film’s resolution.
With a few downsides and hiccups, the overall product of Hail, Caesar! is definitely worth a watch. It’s a love letter to classic cinema with glimpses of social and political commentary on the industry. There’s too much upside to the new Coen Brothers film to call it a flop, although it would have been nice to consider it an instant classic. Maybe there is a director’s cut hiding out there that gives the audience a little more substance, but it should not be overlooked if you call yourself a Coen Brothers fan or even a film aficionado. Overall it falls right in-between a B and a C on the rating scale with certain aspects that almost make it a must see. If you’re wondering if you should buy a ticket, it’s worth it.