Hail, Caesar!


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Clancy Brown, Heather Goldenhersh, Veronica Osorio, Alison Pill, Max Baker, Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz, Robert Picardo, Robert Trebor, Fred Melamed, Wayne Knight, Jack Huston, Christopher Lambert.
Narrator: Michael Gambon.

“Here at Capitol Pictures, as you know, an army of technicians, actors, and top notch artistic people are working hard to bring to the screen the story of the Christ. It’s a swell story”

Three years ago, the Coens brothers delivered a dramatic, musical piece that focused on the folk scene of the 60’s in Inside Llewyn Davis. If truth be told, it was a film that didn’t peak my interest at the time. But, give the brothers their due, they managed to deliver an astounding piece of work that finished the year as one of my favourite films and proved they are still full of surprises. As they often do, they like to switch from drama to comedy and, as a result, follow-up that dramatic work with the satirical Hail Caesar! Again, this was a film that never really peaked my interest but unlike their previous film, it didn’t work as well as it possibly could have.

As the head of physical production in 1950’s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is charged with the task of keeping the Hollywood stars free from controversy. However, once the news that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has disappeared, Mannix finds himself dealing with Communist kidnappers, as well as having to juggle an unhappy director (Ralph Fiennes), a talentless actor (Alden Ehrenreich) and an out of wedlock pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson) before the gossip columnists (two Tilda Swinton’s) get wind of what scandals are going down.With the brothers Coen, there has now become an expectation of quality. Whether it be their dark and involving dramas or their zany, oddball comedies there is always something to take from their films. It’s interesting then, that the Coens should tackle the medium of filmmaking and use their skills and expertise to send up the industry itself. Only they don’t. This is the first Coen brothers film since The Ladykillers in 2004 that I’ve struggled with. They’re known for their labyrinthine plots and extensive, quirky, supporting characters but, although I could see what they were striving for here, it just didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Granted, Brolin delivers great work in the lead as Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix and Clooney’s numbskull movie star Baird Whitlock is another entertaining comedic performance that fits nicely with his “trio of idiots” from the Coens’ early work – O Brother Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading. However, as good as they are, these two highly appealing actors feel, strangely, restrained. The rest are simply underused; Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum get a chance to get involved in some song and dance numbers that are little more than the razzmatazz they’re intended for and the likes of Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes are merely just names filling out inconsequential parts. Probably the biggest surprise from the cast is relative unknown Alden Ehrenreich. As Hobey Doyle he delivers a hilariously nuanced performance of an actor who can’t actually act.The Coens have delivered similar storylines before; Barton Fink in 1991 briefly touched upon the difficulties and cutthroat nature of the film industry and the act of kidnapping or ransom has been a regular theme throughout their filmography. It doesn’t matter in which genre they approach it as it’s often to marvellous results. Hail Caesar!, however, is a misjudged affair. It doesn’t have snappy dialogue. It doesn’t have memorable supporting characters. It doesn’t have the character actors of Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi or John Turturro that often make the most flippant of Coen’s scenes or characters so vibrant. What it ultimately lacks, though, is humour. I never thought I’d say such a thing and it pains me to speak ill of my favourite filmmakers but Joel and Ethan’s latest venture is lacking their usual spark.Hail Ceasar! is a half-baked idea that had the potential to be a hilarious send-up of Hollywood but results in being a missed opportunity. There are sporadic moments of brilliance but they are too few and far between and, dare I say it, the film verges on the brink of tedium and instills a feeling of boredom.It’s often been said that the Coen’s off the boil are better than most on it and more often than not this is true. However, despite many admirable qualities (Roger Deakins’ sumptuous cinematography for one) the Coen’s forget to entertain and even the star-studded cast can’t save this. It’s ripe material for a riotously, screwball comedy of which the brothers are known but when all is said and done, it’s a surprisingly humourless, minor work from them.Mark Walker

Trivia: Dolph Lundgren has an uncredited (initially much longer and almost entirely deleted) cameo as a submarine captain.

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55 Responses to “Hail, Caesar!”

  1. I remember going to see this in the theater and waiting and waiting for it to get funny, and it just never happened, and when the credits rolled my first thought was “what the heck did I just watch?”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice review Mark, though I was an ardent fan of this picture. It isn’t the Coen brothers at the top of the form but I found Hail Caesar consistently entertaining and an insightful look at the Hollywood studio system. Universal really mis-promoted this movie as a comic caper rather than an examination of studio fixing, which is why I think Hail Caesar rubbed some people the wrong way.

    Regardless, we both agree on the merits of Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. He stole every scene he was in and I hope he stars in another Coen brothers picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Charles. I found this only to be mildly entertaining at best. Maybe you’re right. Maybe the marketing for this was all wrong. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I was actually astonished how little humour I found in it.
      That said, Ehrenreich was absolutely excellent wasn’t he? He was the real highlight for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Little wonder the studio positioned it early the year’s schedule. Too bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That early release did make me wonder as well, Michael. Now I know why. That said, many critics lavished praise on this. I wanted to but it just didn’t work for me and I don’t often say that when it comes to the Coen’s. 😦

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  4. I’ve heard differing opinions on this movie Mark. Very good review my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good review, Mark. I have seen mixed responses to this film. From watching the trailer, it doesn’t strike me as something that would appeal to me but I may watch it anyway, just because of all the opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Liam. It would seem that critics enjoyed this one more than viewers but it is one I’ll go back too. I’ve always found something in a Coens film and I’m actually quite taken aback that this left me so deflated.

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  6. Mark, nice review. This is a split film of those that yawned and those that laughed. I can’t wait to watch it to form my own opinion, but I will take your thoughts with me when I do!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say man, we’re unfortunately right on board with this thing. I was very sorely disappointed by what I was shown here. I think the thing that might change when I go back and watch it again (I totally do want to, it wasn’t bad enough to scare me away forever like some people are saying it did for them. . . poor them), is that I need to keep in mind just the sheer weirdness of everything going on. Maybe this was never meant to be a “Laugh out loud” picture. Maybe the COens made exactly the picture they wanted, but the rest of us idiots don’t get it. πŸ˜‰ Eh? What say you? Are you willing to give it a second chance or does this thing die after the one watch for you?

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    • Yeah, it was a sore one, man. I had such high hopes. I think you’re on to something though. I remember not quite “getting” The Big Lebowski on the first viewing and it went on to become my absolute favourite film. The Coens are definitely clever than most and that can often mean cleverer than their audience. For sure, I’ll give this another shot but I’ll let the dust settle first. I really hope I’ve been wrong on my judgement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I as well! I think few filmmakers nowadays inspire multiple watches, but its the brothers Coen and PTA for sure who do.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Couldn’t agree more buddy. It’s the Coens and PTA for me too. Outstanding filmmakers. That’s why it pains me to give Hail Caeser such a middling rating. I did consider holding off until I’d seen it again. Anyway, it’s my place and I can change my opinion further down the line if I so wish πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah, pity you didn’t love it. It’s a Coens movie though – I gotta see it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Gotta say, I really enjoyed this outing. Like you I’m a big fan of the Coens and, while it’s certainly not one of their absolute best, I laughed fairly consistently. Also thought the performances — cameos included — were terrific. I even went to see it twice! πŸ˜‰ Great write-up though Mark, shame it didn’t quite do it for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wanted to love this, Adam. Unfortunately, it left me massively disappointed. I enjoyed Deakins’ work and the performances were great but it was the laughs that didn’t happen for me. I giggled on occasion but this didn’t hit the comedy notes I expecting.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sorry to see this didn’t work for you , Mark! It seems that the general consensus is that the movie was wasted and not a typical Coens production. Oh, well. Maybe next time then!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hopefully a rewatch will allow me to ponder and savour more, Zoe, but on my initial first viewing, it felt like too much of a slog. Surely there’s more to this than what I took from it though. It would be very unlike the Coen’s to just push out a generic comedy.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. We’re not parking our cars in the same garage here, Mr W! I liked it – laughed fairly regularly throughout and thought the dialogue was actually pretty sharp. I enjoyed the scattershot nature of it, though I agree some actors are shoehorned in to tiny parts (Swinton, Fiennes and Hill, as you say) and that became a bit distracting for me. Still, those who haven’t worked with the Coens before have now got a box ticked on their CV, so good for them. Not saying it’s anywhere near their best, but I thought it was decent, and I’d watch it again one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I don’t know, man! This was hugely disappointing for me. I enjoyed the performances and the cinematography but I thought it was disjointed and lacked any real flow. To be fair, I felt the same when I first watched The Big Lebowski and after a few rewatches it catapulted to being my all time favourite film. I’d like to think that I’ve missed something here and after a revisit I’ll change mind but my view of this at the moment is purely based on that one sitting and I wasn’t overly impressed. 😦

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      • I’ve liked several movies a lot more than Hail, Caesar and High-Rise this year, but those are the two that I’d probably want to watch again at some point ahead of others, as there was a lot going on in both. This one seems to have divided people right down the middle though.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I;ve heard that Channing Tatum does a very good Gene Kelly-esque dance sequence in this.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yeah I pretty much agree w/ your assessment & rating on this Mark. It looks so promising and it did make me laugh in parts, but overall it’s rather disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Coens but they didn’t catch me with this one, Ruth. It felt disjointed and far too meandering for my liking. Disappointed is an understatement for me. I’m hoping I can take more from it on another viewing.

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  14. Ahh too bad Mark, this seems to be one of the Coen’s more divisive films. I loved it, I found the dialogue hilarious and constantly entertaining. And I love Swinton in almost anything, no matter how small. All the sub-plots didn’t feel disjointed to me, they felt right cos the movie was showing how busy Mannix is (he checks his watch at least five times throughout), and also how much of a clusterfuck Hollywood really is/was – hence a shit-load of characters/problems in small parts.

    Not their best film, no doubt, but I saw it months ago and am still chuckling at some of the dialogue that I’m recalling now having read your review. I will admit it would have been nice to see more of Fiennes and Ehrenreich (who cracked me up, walking onto the set of a drama as rigid as possible, ha!). I do still think though that it could have been better than it was

    I agree that Clooney seemed restrained. Not so much Brolin, but Clooney was on autopilot, which disappointed me as he was so good in Burn After Reading.

    Sorry for the essay mate, this was a really fascinating movie for me and I always love discussing them in the comments, even if I disagree!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wish I could share your enthusiasm for it, Jordan. I tried. I really did but I didn’t find it that funny. I chuckled here and there but the Coen’s have had me in stitches before and I was expecting the same again. It just wasn’t there for me. In fact, my mind kept drifting and I had to talk myself out being bored while watching it.

      I’m agreed on the performances. Brolin is always reliable and as good as I found Clooney, you’re right, he didn’t hit the comedy notes the way he did in O Brother or Burn After Reading. Ehrenreich was the biggest surprise for me and I would have welcomed more of Fiennes and Swinton.

      Overall, I found the film laborious and far too much hard work for a film that was labelled a comedy. It has been mentioned, though, that the film was marketed badly and I would agree with that. I think a lot of people, myself included, were expecting something much different that what we were given. The trailers alone had it down as some zany, slapsticky comedic romp. I didn’t get that… 😦

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      • Ah, misleading trailers =/
        I always try to avoid them, even when at the cinema.

        While I found this funny I do agree that they have had me laughing a lot more in other films, though the discussion between the priests about religion had me cackling like an idiot.

        Ehrenreich is gonna be big. He was my favourite part of the movie. More of Fiennes and him would have been great, as well as Swinton.

        I guess the marketing campaign was a little off… though I found it funny (only through dialogue), I found it much more interesting as a satire of that period of Hollywood.

        Bummer that this didn’t gel with you mate, hopefully a second watch down the line changes your opinion πŸ˜› Though it certainly has a low score on imdb so I may be in the minority here.

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      • Normally I don’t watch trailers myself but this one kept sneaking up on me on the TV. I couldn’t avoid it.

        I’m with you on the religion conversation with the priests and Rabbi. That was good stuff.
        Fiennes and Ehrenreich’s scene together was gold and I enjoyed Brolin and Clooney doing their thing. It was mainly the narrative and pace that annoyed me. Like I say, though, I’m not writing it off completely. I will try again.

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      • Ha, I don’t watch television πŸ˜€ Or youtube all that much. I am impervious to movie PR campaigns ;D

        Like

  15. Nothing about the premise or the trailer or anything grabbed me.As always, great insight Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

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