Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
Spoiler alert in effect.
Hail, Caesar! is a satirical comedy about Hollywood, following the everyday worklife of the head of production of Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Set in the 1950s, a period of change in the film industry, it also coincides with the Cold War and Americans’ need to escape reality through over-the-top productions including extravagant Westerns, theatrical dancing productions and Roman epics depicting Biblical figures.
This film has been largely under the radar in 2016, despite relatively positive reviews from critics, with audiences not really taking a liking to it. I’m with the general consensus that it’s a pretty average film, despite the somewhat more ambitious story it’s trying to tell. The first 10 to 15 minutes is painfully slow and confusing, with seemingly random scenes being chucked together, but the middle section does ramp up the pacing and drama, making for a more enjoyable watch. In the last part of the film, after the climax is revealed, it again becomes dreary and unexciting to watch. Despite all its star power, including George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum, it fails to really capture the imagination of audiences.
The film aims to show all the different aspects of the film industry and the workings of a typical film studio. It takes all these elements and exaggerates them through different ‘episodes’ occurring to its actors and actresses: their most-bankable star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) was kidnapped by communists, their dancing and singing heartthrob Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) defected to the Russians (what the heck???), their Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) was forced to do a serious speaking role on another film, dealing with the negative publicity surrounding their star actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson)being pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, and the press trying to find a scandalous scoop for their newspaper columns. Basically, anything and everything that could possibly happen to a film studio did, and it explores both the heavier matters but also weaves through lighter scenes.
The problem I had was the development of characters and the transition between scenes. There were a lot of minor characters that felt were really underdeveloped and seemed to be added on like an afterthought. The whole DeeAnna Moran saga involving Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill) is almost forgotten at the end, because it just doesn’t tie in well with the other parts of the film and their scenes are so short it almost feels like its tagged on. I also felt a lack of engagement and attraction to the characters. Often, there will be one or several characters that you care about and root for, and that helps you stay interested in the story. However, there was nothing likeable about any of these characters. They all feel so detached and there were no personal relationships that drove the film along. In general, I felt the scenes didn’t flow well together, and it felt choppy in some instances, like it had been cut and pasted in between other scenes. However, the scene I enjoyed the most was the sailor-themed dancing musical scene with Channing Tatum. It was choreographed to perfection and it was nice light moment in the film.
I’ve never been such a huge fan of the Coen brothers’ films, which is not to say their films aren’t good, but just that I don’t enjoy the type of stories they write. The language and settings are bit too outlandish and artistic for my liking, and I never really get into the plot easily. The dialogue tends to cover niche topics that are often difficult to connect with and this film is the same. The scenes where Baird Whitlock is kidnapped by the communists involve very sophisticated conversations involving history, economics and capitalism, which go beyond my head. I think in part this contributed to my lack of engagement with the film. I did however enjoy the more humourous and light scenes involving Hobie Doyle and Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).
Overall, I found the premise interesting but the execution less so. The eccentricity of the characters and dialogue were not to my liking, but they were well-written and will surely be enjoyed by others. I thought the acting was so-so, given the prowess of the cast. No one really stood out for me. It’s an alright film, but there are plenty of better films to spend your 2 hours on.
Side note: The guy who plays Hobie Doyle, Alden Ehrenreich, will be playing Han Solo in the as of yet-untitled Han Solo film due out in 2018. So keep an eye out for him.