Sailors dance around a bar talking about the lack of women for their foreseeable future in a set piece reminiscent of a Gene Kelly musical, a faux mermaid swims in a large water tank in an Esther Williams homage, and a ridiculous scene from a western entitled Lazy Ol’ Moon featuring an obvious redub over the lead actors’ voice; Hail, Caesar! is the quintessential love letter to 50’s Hollywood. While it may not always be the most successful of narrative films, it’s hard to deny the amount of love that is evident on the screen even if there’s a lot more to be desired in the character department– and a few other places as well.
Hail, Caesar! boasts some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, among them is Channing Tatum, George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, and so on. The movie uses these big names to great effect and nearly every one of these actors bring their all to roles that occasionally lead up to only a few minutes of screentime. Within that screen time there are some genuinely hilarious moments, but none that particularly hold onto anything cohesive. Caesar is a semicoherent film. You are able to understand what is going on within the film, but as to why they’re happening/what their purpose is as a whole, is really up for grabs.
The Coen brothers are fairly renowned in the world of filmmaking (if you are an aficionado in that world, you’ll realize how obvious that is) and their movies are known to be profound, thoughtful, heartbreaking, as well as other things, including confusing. Confusion is the dominant feeling you will be walking out with, however. Every moment that shows these movements within 1950’s Hollywood is absolutely fantastic and visually entertaining (can Roger Deakins really do wrong?). However those moments don’t add up to the overall purpose of the film, which is even more difficult to grasp.
A Serious Man dealt with a husband coping with the fallout of his marriage, the attractive woman across the street, a foreign student trying to bribe his way to good grades; and all those moments were able to come together to create a film about what our purpose is, among many other things that it explores. All the films by the Coen’s are effectively about something and the desire to explore that topic in a way that makes the story come to a whole, if not on a narrative level, then a thematic level. Neither option feels entirely fulfilled during Hail, Caesar! and it leaves you with a less than satisfying experience. Whether or not the film is really about compromise, or your purpose in this life, maybe even faith– none of these are ever successfully explored.
But the films within the film are so entertaining to watch, chief among them is Laurence Laurentz’ (Ralph Fiennes) period drama starring Hobie Doyle (an absolutely perfect Alden Ehrenreich), a cowboy type that has a little difficulty shedding his southern accent for the part. While it is an excellent scene, and I wouldn’t want to see it cut, it’s hard to find a particular purpose aside from showing the different types of films in the era and shedding light on a few characters. Some of these said characters are only featured in an extra scene, only to be whisked off later. There are so many moments here that feel that way and it’s not too long before it starts to feel like the Coen’s should shift their focus to the next subject that will move the story forward.
If there was a movie to compare with Hail Caesar!, it would be The Big Lebowski. While I can’t praise it nearly as much, both films share a rightful looseness and charm that carries on throughout. Neither film particularly cares about the reality outside of its own, but cares about the moments one person is going through and the choices that puts them in quite curious situations. The difference here, is that there’s not one character that is in every scene. In fact, while Josh Brolin may be the character which this all revolves around, he’s really not the star of the show. There isn’t one character to follow in the shenanigans of this universe, it’s several. And none of the performances last long enough (or are particularly good enough) to really stand up to any in a film like The Big Lebowski, but it sure as hell tries.
I can’t fault a film for ambition, and Hail, Caesar! isn’t lacking that in the slightest. What it is lacking is a common focus beyond its setting. George Clooney is kidnapped by Communist writers, Scarlett Johansson has to hide her conceived-out-of-wedlock child from being found out, and Josh Brolin needs to fix it all. Not only does the movie not care about all those plots having meaning in the end, it’s truly the lack of care that really hurts the movie. The Coen’s aren’t lacking in great movies, and those memorable scenes are worth watching, but it never coalesces into being a great movie.
(Would that it were so simple!)
- The acting, particularly from Alden Ehrenreich, is absolutely outstanding
- As always, this Coen Brothers film looks gorgeous. You can't go wrong with cinematography from Roger Deakins.
- When this movie is funny, it's really funny.
- Did I mention how great Alden Ehrenreich is?
- The narrative focus, even compared to other Coen films, is all over the place.
- The lack of laughs overall is disappointing.
- Subject really doesn't inspire that much thought into the themes.
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