Hail, Caesar! is a wacky low-key Coen Brothers flick that doesn't quite reach the heights of their recent work, but rests comfortably as one of their weaker, but still good efforts. Josh Brolin leads a mostly eccentric cast, which is littered with cameos.
Joel and Ethan Coen follow up their folk-singing character study Inside Llewyn Davis with Hail, Caesar!, a wacky low-key comedy that is jam-packed with extended (and rather goofy) cameos. Caesar! isn’t their best or even their weirdest piece of work, instead acting as one of their less engaging films that still has its shining moments.
The film follows studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he deals with all sorts of Hollywood craziness in the 1950s, including a silent kidnapping of his famed big picture star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).
But the film isn’t as much about Mannix trying to find the people behind Whitlock’s kidnapping as it is about simply being a film from a different time. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen do a fantastic job capturing the period with a measurable amount of authenticity and entertainment, highlighting the bizarre and weird like they always do, while providing viewers with a straight-forward plot that makes way for even better performances.
And that’s where Hail, Caesar! truly shines. It’s more invested in its performances, even if they’re far too brief. People like Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johansson show up, spark some energy into the film and steal the crowd, before leaving the stage abruptly and without much notice.
It’s almost an annoying feeling watching someone like Tatum perform such an entertaining musical number, with a giant cheery smile on his face, only to exit the film almost entirely after.
Same goes for the rest of the mentioned cast, including a film-stealing performance by Ralph Fiennes as an accomplished director trying to work with a Western actor that can’t seem to read his lines or emote much of anything.
Hail, Caesar! is hilarious at times, because of these awkward and uncomfortable moments created almost effortlessly by The Coens. They know how to get performances out of their actors and their actors are all so dynamic and different. Each one brings something unique to the film to help balance out the usual Coens weirdness.
But everything doesn’t add up as clearly or as cleanly as their other work. For example, A Serious Man and Burn After Reading are hilarious, bizarre and yet reflective and engaging. Both embrace their times and comment on their own issues and agendas in a way that’s satisfying, on-the-nose when it needs to be and clever like all of The Coens‘ work. Everything adds up and then some.
But Hail, Caesar! doesn’t feel as structured or as rewarding. It’s always weird and occasionally funny, but the film’s actual story sort of sits on the back-burner as The Coens get lost in the time period of Old Hollywood. They capture the look and feel of the studio days back then almost perfectly, but it’s almost like they were more worried about making spoof movies within their own movie than their actual movie.
The performances are too short to completely redeem the film, which isn’t an alarming fact, but a noticeable one that I feel will disappoint most Coen Brothers fans.
Hail, Caesar! is more in line with The Ladykillers than it is any of their other films. And that’s not entirely a bad thing, but an observation that will surely bum out those looking for another instant comedy classic from the guys that did The Big Lebowski and Fargo.
I’m sure as the years go by more will appreciate Hail, Caesar! as a lesser, but still good piece of work in The Coens‘ ever-growing body of films, but as for now I can’t seem to think of any reason as to why I’d bother watching this one again theatrically, which is almost a must for all Coen Brothers films. It’s good, but rarely great.