Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich
It’s always a minor event of sorts whenever the Coen brothers finish and share their latest film. The duo’s influence in the last 25+ years has been astounding, and they’re never afraid to violate the rules, consistently marching to the beat of their own drum. Sometimes it works and blows the industry apart, as seen in successes like Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Other times, you get Hail, Caesar!
Josh Brolin takes the lead in Hail, Caesar! as Eddie Mannix, a seasoned 1950’s Hollywood producer trying to keep his zoo full of artists and celebrities in order during the production of their latest epic film (an obvious reference to William Wyler’s legendary Ben-Hur). Things descend into chaos when the film’s star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped and held for ransom, forcing Mannix to put together a rescue plan all the while juggling the quirky needs of the rest of the studio’s star-studded residents.
The cast of Hail, Caesar! is deserving of no derision, diving into their roles with earnest and excitement, selling each character with his or her own unique charm or humour. Clooney and Brolin provide competent work for their two “leading” characters, but the standouts tend to be the players on the side. Particularly, I think of Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, a western star whom the studio is attempting to re-imagine as a sexy and brooding dramatic actor. Ehrenreich’s straight-faced delivery provides the film’s strongest backbone in humour, especially in a sequence where he squares off opposite auteurist director Laurence Laurentz, played by Ralph Fiennes. I also enjoyed Channing Tatum’s performance as Burt Gurney, particularly in a lively musical number.
Hail, Caesar! is gleefully irreverent of Hollywood, but it really doesn’t play to its favour. The “core plot” (if it can be even considered that) gives way to a series of vaguely connected sketches, and the result is scatterbrained and aimless. It goes basically nowhere with anything, building itself up to a series of anticlimactic letdowns.
The film just bland as well. As it investigates different genres from noir to western to musical, the lighting and style never seems to change with it, and every sequence just feels the same. Cinematography rarely feels inspired, the sets and characters are generic and underdeveloped…I want to say that it could stand to have some more hyperbole to liven things up, but then again the whole thing is already like that. Everything is nonstop quirkiness and chaos, but what should be exciting and over-the-top somehow ends up being underwhelming. I got bored.
The lack of purpose is the real killer. There’s nothing to latch on to in Hail, Caesar!, no point or payoff to any of it, and it becomes tiresome by the conclusion. There are some light thematic possibilities presented, perhaps that cinema is some sort of modern God. I wouldn’t even put it past the Coens to have intended the pointlessness to be part of the theme, perhaps trying to comment on the frivolity of celebrity and glamour, and yet how it commands us like a cruel deity. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time they’ve attempted to explore nihilism through comedy, thinking of The Big Lebowski in particular as one of their more popular successes. Except that film was entertaining. Whatever the Coens may have intended Hail, Caesar! to be, at this point I couldn’t care less. Hail, Caesar! certainly has its moments, but it’s just not interesting, and I can’t be bothered to think about it any more.