Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton
Hail, Caesar! is fun and quirky, in a way that's unique to the Coen Brothers, much in the same, niche way O Brother, Where Art Thou? made for a fun and memorable glimpse into Americana. There are plenty of things that work, but at the same time, it all feels somewhat shallow and structureless. The vision is there. The details are there. But, something is definitely awry.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood fixer. He's the one who takes on the accountability and responsibility that other, studio figures seems to throw to the wayside; a glorified babysitter, for lack of a better term. On this particular day, whatever can happen will happen. Already full of despair as he tries to quit smoking, while lying to his wife about continuing his habit (and dealing with the guilt involved), he must keep production on two major, big budget projects going while sloshing through situations involving a kidnapped star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a pregnant beauty (Scarlett Johansson), and a bumbling up-and-comer (Alden Ehrenreich). Mix in a group of revenge-seeking writers, a la the Black List of lore, and a sadistic set of twin gossipmongers (both played by Tilda Swinton) and you've got yourself a glorified period comedy.
The Coen's first order of business is assembling a stellar cast, many of whom are Coen favorites. There's a certain tongue-in-cheek comedic flair needed to pull off a romp like this. It's both wildly detailed in its approach, but silly in its delivery. Clooney plays up the comedy the most, huffing and puffing through most of his scenes. And, the directors even allow for minor moments of slapstick.
The script is generally great, with standout scenes stealing the rest of the show, particularly the one in which Ehrenreich's Hobie Doyle has a simple battle of words with famed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). The witty banter goes back and forth in the most perfect of ways, establishing the film's best and most memorable moment. Coming in as a close second is a musical number starring Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-ish tap-dancing star. With glances towards sailors having an extra skip in their step, it's well choreographed and easily the film's funniest jab at the Hollywood of yore.
Shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, the other strong element is the visual perfection in each and every shot. Working almost as a throwback to the epic pictures of the golden age, a certain synchronized swimming scene is every bit as enchanting as the films it's trying to emulate.
There is an inherent good among Hail, Caesar's attempts at honoring the past and providing a quirky humor not recently found in other pictures. But, while the intentions are good, the result isn't great. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what goes wrong, which actually turns out to be the problem. There's a subtle lack of structure that tends to leave the film feeling more like a strung together group of scenes than a well-rounded story of intrigue and beauty.
There's nothing wrong with having a good time at the movies, but a film presented in the caliber should move and entertain you in a way beyond your normal film offerings. With a shrug of my shoulders, I left the theater feeling like I had enjoyed myself, but also recounting the groceries I needed to get as I stopped by the store on the way home.
It's good, not great. Go for newcomer Ehrenreich and stay for the mesmerizing costumes and set designs.
Runtime: 1h 46min