Hail, Caesar! (2016, USA, d. Joel & Ethan Coen, 106 Minutes)
by Robert Joseph Butler
Hail, Caesar!, the latest comedic satire from Joel and Ethan Coen, is very disappointing. Nowhere near as personal as their previous masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis, or has successful or sophisticated as A Serous Man, and or as comedic as The Big Lebowski, the film is more on the level of the Coens lesser films like Burn After Reading, The Ladykillers, and Intolerable Cruelty.
It offers some sharp satire of 50s Hollywood, however it fails miserable in drawn out and unfunny stretches that don’t really go anywhere. Using an all-star cast and another collaboration with the brilliant director of photographer Roger Deakins can’t anchor Hail, Caesar! into a successful comedy. There are moments that are slightly comedic, however there are far too many scenes that go on for way too long. For a film that uses a lot of vignettes and numerous characters doesn’t add up that much of a film. The end result feels slight and very uneven.
The films setting takes place during 1951 Hollywood. A Capital Studios executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has chaos to deal with once their biggest movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of a Cecil B. DeMille life sized epic titled Hail, Caesar! — A Tale of Christ has been kidnapped on set after being poisoned by an extra (Wayne Knight).
Mannix also has to deal with other talents including an A-list starlet (Scarlett Johansson), who is pregnant out of wedlock. He’s also being forced to cast a character actor cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) into a dramatic role, and he is heckled by two twin tabloid reporters who want answers about the disappearance of Baird, both played by Tilda Swinton.
While the satire and commentary is certainly there. The Coen’s use parody in some laughable dance numbers and set pieces, funniest one involves Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly like A-lister who has an agenda of his own. The absurdities take Mannix down an exhausting worm hole of communist screenwriters, tabloid reporters, Hollywood cover-ups, and a power structure he serves. There is a comical scene involving Mannix getting the insights of various religious leaders about the crucifixion of Christ in the script. It starts off sophisticated, but the humor wears off. The biggest standout here is Alden Ehrenreich as the endearing cowboy, Hobie Doyle. The subplot of a character actor cowboy trying to become a dramatic actor offers the most hilarity. Everything else feels dragged out and meandering.
Hail, Caesar! will probably appeal to die hard Coen brothers fans along with film buffs that hold interest in Hollywood’s golden age. Audiences however will probably find it flat and dry. It all adds up to a very disappointing film filled with many detours and dead ends.