The much anticipated new Coen brothers film, Hail, Caesar! has arrived, but it might not be worth the wait.
Apart from being the latest film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film stars a large ensemble cast of Hollywood acting talent, including Josh Brolin in the main role, previous Coen-collaborators George Clooney (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Frances McDormand (Fargo), Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and a stack of smaller roles and cameos where you’ll say to yourself over and over: “Oh I’ve seen that guy before!”
This latest effort by the Coen Brothers is set in the early 1950s in Hollywood, at a time before television when movies were churned out of the Hollywood Studio system every few weeks and stars would make anything up to 12 or more movies a year, and they signed studio contracts, only making movies for that studio for a long period of time. At Capitol Studios, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped and held for ransom by a mysterious group known as “The Future”, and it’s Eddie Mannix’s (Brolin’s) job to fix the problem and get his premiere star back, simultaneously dealing with a number of other not-so-minor crises along the way.
The film is simultaneously a wonderful tribute and a biting parody on ‘The Golden Era of Hollywood’. In true Coen Brothers-style, there are some moments that make you giggle uncontrollably, and other utterly surreal moments that punctuate the storyline as an aside to the main plot. However, unlike their classics of the past (such as Fargo and Burn After Reading), this film never reaches anywhere near the heights of their earlier work.
After the film, an audience member remarked, “The movie was building up towards something, but then it just fizzled.” I honestly couldn’t have put it better myself. There was no payoff. The first half of the film had all the really humorous bits and I sat there thinking that this is heading somewhere, and then it just… didn’t.
The revelation of who “The Future” actually are probably didn’t help, and given the era the film is set in, this plot point almost seemed forced. The other thing I was disappointed with was that, for the amount of actors listed on the poster, there was some seriously small screen time for some of them. Jonah Hill was barely on screen for a minute. Scarlett Johansson for 3~4 mins. McDormand and Swinton barely get 5 mins each. Ralph Fiennes is funny but underused, and Channing Tatum has barely 10 mins total on screen (Although he does something in this movie that is pretty amazing and I had no idea that guy had it in him!). It hardly seemed worth listing them all on the main cast list! I guess that with all the acting talent injected by the Coen Brothers, some trade offs had to be made with screen time. Clooney was solid in his role and Josh Brolin definitely carried the film as Eddie Mannix.
Ultimately, Hail! Caesar was a disappointment. I expected much more, especially given the team who made it, and all the acting talent involved.
Reviewed by David Emms