When I saw Hail, Caesar! this weekend, I was convinced it would be about George Clooney getting kidnapped and a quirky scheme to free him. This is what we have come to expect from a Coen brothers movie. Emotionally exciting and exhausting, while humorous and gleeful. This movie, while most definitely hilarious, ended without an ending.
The main character, played by Josh Brolin, had a very normal emotional arc. The movie started in a church with an issue, and, as a mainstream Hollywood movie would have it, it ended in a church with that issue being resolved. This arc was the only one that ended the film with a satisfying taste, all the others being subplots with extremely high-profile actors without any teleological goal-directedness.
The Clooney kidnapping plot was one such plot. He was kidnapped, until he wasn't anymore. There was no climax, no emotional struggle for this subplot, or any subplot really. The real emotional climax of this subplot was ironically the very beginning while he was still drugged, which we saw most of in the trailer. The Channing Tatum subplot was even more bizarre. His character was a caricature to a higher degree than the other parodies of 1950's studio film archetypes saturating the film. He shows up, steals the show, and leaves with his puppy. Scarlett Johansson was more of that same with her role and Jonah Hill's small part in that subplot. And the most interesting, and yet also not fulfilled, subplot involved Alden Ehrenreich and his transition from Westerns to dramas. So much of this sub-story seemed to not take place in the movie. All these subplots did not lend as much more than cannon-fodder to the protagonist of Josh Brolin and his largely disconnected main character arc.
This film suffered from what seems to be best described by a feeling that too much will be seen on the "Deleted Scenes" on the DVD. Too many subplots left unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Too many subplots that all climaxed at different points in time in the film, flat-lining the whole film in a unique moderate excitement that never grew past the beginning nor declined until the very end. This flat-lining is avoided in most films by having the subplots climax at the same point in the film, all leading to heightened emotions and one moment that the audience can walk away from and say "yes, THAT is what the movie was about." But instead we got the emotionally draining decision of a new job offer as our main plot. This, what I am calling flat-lining, was most likely done on purpose by the Coen brothers in an attempt to experiment in their screenwriting, but I contend this test of the American audience failed for the reasons above.
This is why it ended without an ending. When the credits rolled after the final "Fade Out", we had to quickly skim through the movie in our minds to inquire whether or not the conflict was resolved and if there were any loose ends. This, while very much a quirky vibe, is not always successful in leaving an enjoyable memory in the audience's mind. Not a successful gamble, but the rest of the movie was so well made that the experience was indeed enjoyable.
This was my main point. But it should also be noted that the film was extremely funny at times. There were at least 3 scenes where I lost it, laughing more than I do at most times in my life. Also of note were the very fun homages to 1950's classic cinema throughout the film. Even in scenes not of a film-within-a-film, the filming techniques were distinctly 1950's from lighting to set pieces to even fake rain. That was fun to watch. More fun to dwell on after the film was over than the lack of closure on those sub-plots.