Hail, Caesar! Review
Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most successful and best American filmmakers to ever walk the Earth. Its amazing to me that they have created the most stark of serious movies right next to the most gut-busting hilarious movies. They have also made quite a bit in-between. I have liked quite a few of their movies, but as with most other filmmakers, not everything they touch turns to gold. Whats interesting about the Coen's is that when I watch some of their movies for the first time, I don't always end up loving them on that first viewing. Believe it or not, I watched "The Big Lebowski" a couple times before falling madly in love with. I had settle into the rhythms of "A Serious Man" and that took a couple viewings before I settled on liking it. While "O, Brother Where Art Thou?" "Fargo" and "No Country For Old Men" knocked me flat on first viewing. Oh, and "Intolerable Cruelty" and I will never mix.
I say all of this because it might be important for me to point out that I just got back from my FIRST viewing of the Coen's latest film, "Hail, Caesar!" I am not the only one who really needs to chew on Coen movies before really getting them. They make very textured and very layered movies and its tough to really feel and understand their films on their first viewing. "Hail, Caesar!" is another goofball comedy, which features an all-star cast nearly across the board. But, I have to say that this Coen comedy has more in common with "Burn After Reading" and "The Ladykillers" than it does "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski." I have to admit I walked out of the theater a little frustrated by the experience.
The marketing for "Hail, Caesar!" could lead you to believe that the movie is about how studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) deals with a ransom of his top star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). In actuality, the movie is about how studio head Eddie Mannix deals with a wide variety of stressful situations, its just that the Baird Whitlock abduction has the most screen time. As I walked out of the theater tonight, I overheard somebody say that "Hail, Caesar!" had no story at all. I could understand this claim. First the movie deals with the Whitlock abduction, the needs of various actors and newspaper writers needing a good story. In simple Coen fashion, there is very little clarified with any of these plots. Which is why I believe the movie looks like a series of random events, and then its over.
Even the plot involving Whitlock's abduction doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Whitlock wakes up from a roofie drink in the home of a bunch of showbiz Communists. The Communists talk about not getting enough money and credit for their work. OK, check. Then they go on to discuss wanting to put more of a extreme Left emphasis in Hollywood. So did they kidnap Whitlock for the former or the latter? And for a hostage, Whitlock is treated extremely well. If that was part of the humor, then I must have missed it. But the most infuriating thing about this plot-line is how unclear the motive of the kidnappers are. It also doesn't help that getting Whitlock back is the most basic fix in any movie ever than it almost gave me a headache. There is no tension to bringing Whitlock back, there is no climax, hell there really wasn't a anti-climax. Its handled so quickly and so nonchalantly that it felt completely unneeded. It also seemed very unbelievable that a studio head wouldn't be worried about the whereabouts of his biggest star for his most expensive production yet.
But okay, its a multi-layered movie with interconnecting plots, I think I could have forgiven quite a bit in this film if the Coen's made it a little more funny. I am not sure, but I think this is the first time in my existence where I barely laughed at a Coen comedy. The audience I saw it with? They were pretty silent throughout the experience too. For being a Coen comedy, I was actually shocked by how little I laughed at it. I think that was the one quality that hurt this experience the most for me, I just didn't laugh as much as I wanted to.
Josh Brolin does a really good job bringing this whole thing together, and he leads this film in unsuspecting ways. The movie may not make a whole lot of sense to me and it may not be as funny as I hoped, but Brolin does a good job of making you buy into the story and keeping your interest. He accompanied by an all-star cast which includes Ralph Fiennes, Scarlet Johannson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton. George Clooney is very good in this, but he's not in it nearly enough as I thought. In fact, I could say the same about some of these other actors. Johannson is good, but all of her material could have been edited out of the movie completely. Tilda Swinton is also very good, but again, her couple scenes could have been edited out completely. That one scene you see Jonah Hill in for all of the commercials is the one and only scene he's in. So if you are wanting some big moments from those actors, I am afraid you might be disappointed. But I will say that out of all actors, its Christopher Fucking Lambert who has a really, really good scene. Yes, Christopher Lambert, the low-level action star with a shitty filmography but an iconic voice lends one of the best scenes in the whole film. Plus, keep your eye Alden Ehrenreich. He plays a singing cowboy actor, and I got to tell you, Ehrenreich is the real deal. He is given the very best material in the whole movie, and he sells it all with ease. Ehrenreich is the easy watermark for the movie and he's an actor I bet we will see more of in the years to come.
I think the film does a good job of creating a 1950's Hollywood. The look and feel of the time is very authentic. I also got a huge kick out how realistic things like sound stages are, and all the detail of creating a set where people are making movies. There are several great mini-productions within this movie, and each of them are all well created. There is a great dance number featuring Channing Tatum in the middle of the movie that I feel like I could have watched a dozen more times. I love it when a movie can feel like a time machine, and I think "Hail, Caesar!" really works on a period piece level.
Who knows, there have been many Coen brothers movies that I had to watch a few times before I realized that I really loved them. I have to admit that I sat next to the two most annoying people I have ever sat next to before, which could have diluted the experience for me. Maybe if I rent "Hail, Caesar!" on video, I may end up liking it more than I did. Or maybe I'll have to watch another dozen times before I end up liking it. Or maybe I'll watch it a lot and realize that its not for me. That can be the case with Coen's movies. They don't make your ordinary motion picture, and that could disappoint and frustrate many audiences. Nobody wants to do homework when it comes to watching movies. But since this was the most bored I have ever been with a Coen movie in recent memory, maybe I won't jump at the chance to catch this video.
FINAL GRADE: C-