(Scored out of 10; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
As many a critic have probably said before me, Hail, Caesar! Is a love letter to a bygone era of cinema. Only, that letter was written by a 2 year old with a carrot. It’s just a bunch of lines, however funny they may be, that, when it comes down to it, aren’t actually saying anything.
Written, produced and directed by the lauded Coen Brothers, Hail, Caesar! is an ode to vintage cinema. Bringing audiences on a tour of old school Hollywood sets ranging from musicals to westerns and parodying the mundane everyday of a film studio, Hail, Caesar! is a triumph in that regard. Outside of that theme, the film is terrible.
Acting more like a 1950’s sketch show than a feature film, Hail, Caesar! fails to bring its disparate scenes to any sort of interesting convergence. Each scene works fine on it’s own but moves onto the next without so much as a hint towards a larger story. One moment we’ll be following Josh Brolin into a boardroom to discuss theology with a bunch of pompous executives from a range of religions. The next will feature Channing Tatum tap dancing on tables with a group of sailors. There is no rhyme or reason to the events on screen, things happen… and then more things happen.
Going into the film my expectations were as high as they could be. The Coen Brothers, largely considered masters in the art of filmmaking, were the driving creative force. The cast was spectacular, featuring the likes of George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and the aforementioned Brolin. And the premise was intriguing from the get go, a Hollywood fixer on the hunt for a kidnapped superstar with only a typewritten note signed The Future to go on. With everything going for it, the film still fails to deliver any sort of impact. As stated, lacking direction, the film flits from one sequence to the next paying more attention to honoring Hollywood’s vaunted past than creating a meaningful piece of art.
Where the film began as a blend between parody and honest homage, it quickly forgets that it needed to tell a story. The main thread of Whitlock’s capture is thrown to the side in favor of extended musical takes and sequences showcasing purposefully atrocious acting. What worked wonders in the trailers overstays its welcome and treads dangerously close to being unbearable. The kid can’t act, we get it. Can we move on to more engaging narrative? As is made abundantly clear in the scene, “would that it were so simple.”
When the film does finally come around to addressing Whitlock’s absence, the reasoning behind his abduction is incredibly underwhelming. What was made out to be a major part of the film ends up being a passing plotline with no tension to it whatsoever. A group of overworked and underpaid writers banding together to form a secret society that kidnaps mega-stars and puts them up for ransom sounds amazing. Hail, Caesar! somehow turns it into boring and contrived garbage. Each “twist” is played to such little enthusiasm that the audience is left wondering what the hell they’re watching. If the characters in the film don’t care about what’s going on, why should the viewers?
About the only thing the movie has going for it are the exceptional performances. Each and every cast member brings a certain charisma to their roles that invokes the aura of the period. George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock is a loveable oaf that ends up assisting in his own kidnapping for no other reason than his snatchers ended up being “cool guys”. Brolin’s Eddie Mannix is a no nonsense workaholic trying to maintain a family while acting as caretaker for the entire studio. Each actor imbues their characters with enough energy to make them instantly likeable, if only the film made any sort of sense. The majority of the top billed actors and actresses only appear in a few brief scenes than vanish into the nether that is the rest of the movie. Jonah Hill, included in every poster and trailer for the film before it’s release, literally has 4 lines and is in the movie for all of 30 seconds. Johansson or Tatum don’t fare any better. So not only was the film edited by a monkey with a passion for old school filmmaking, the marketing team blatantly lied to us (which isn’t anything new when it comes to movie marketing. But when a film sucks, every issue tends to get magnified).
As good as each individual performance was, there is only so much actors can do to prop up a film. Without a coherent story or hook to keep audiences invested, Hail, Caesar! is a massive disappointment. Resembling a bad episode of an improve show as opposed to an engaging piece of cinema, this is one film best left unseen.
Overall, Hail, Caesar! gets a 3/10.
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