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.