Hail, Caesar! Written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a film that takes a charming and at times innocent look back at the making of films in 1950’s Hollywood. Fast and enjoyable dialogue controls the scenes, while the Coen’s expert ability to construct and shoot comedy backs it up. However a very basic story strings everything together and by the time the credits roll it all felt a little anti-climactic, and all of it was very much hurt by just how tonally confusing the film is at times. There’s a lot to love in Hail, Caesar but there’s also a lot that left me wanting, when it was all said and done.
Hail, Caesar! Tells the story of Eddie Mannix – played by Josh Brolin – who is Hollywood’s go to fix it man. As problems start to arise, Eddie jumps on them and fixes them up however he can. His new and very troublesome problem he faces is the kidnapping of one of the studios biggest stars, Baird Whitlock – played by George Clooney – who is currently starring in one of the biggest films of the year… Hail, Caesar! Mannix must quickly get him back, keep it all out of the gossip columns and get the film back on track for completion.
This is a film that is extremely meta – it is a film that has films within a film and each one of those films has to stand on its own as something that feels like it would genuinely exist during that time, and at the same time those films have to exist within the context of the overall film Hail, Caesar! Still following? This meant that tonally the film did get away from itself, and soon became confusing to keep up with. One moment I’m watching an entire tap dance scene with an upbeat song and some choreography very much of the time and the next I was back on the mystery trail with Eddie Mannix as he attempted to get his leading man back. It all made for a film that seemed lost at times.
But then having said that, the moments where the film did leave its one story path and indulged itself in some classic cinema was unabashedly joyous. Each time the film would focus an unexpected amount of time in another film that didn’t really play any part in the grand scheme of things was for me, a giddy inducing time – but I do worry that the films constant jumping around will be tiring for your general audience members. The Coen’s have a very particular style and a very particular way of doing things and it means that sometimes the audience is left out.
What I hope will be the thing that keeps them engaged is just how perfectly presented and executed the comedy is in this film. The Coen Brothers are not new to having wacky or smart comedy running through the core of their film and it made me happy every time I saw another expertly orchestrated comical scene. Not only does the film have some hilarious physical comedy but it is also swimming in dialogue that is smart and never intrusive or cheap. A particular scene that had me laughing involved a Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox priest, a Protestant minister, and a rabbi (That already sounds like the start to a good joke) all bickering back and forth about not only the depiction of Jesus in the film that was being made within this film but all of them then also getting lost in a theological argument about just who Jesus was, all while Eddie Mannix stands perplexed in the middle of them. The dialogue in this scene is perfect and the performances from the actors help sell it even more. If there is one thing the Coen’s do well its dark, messed up comedy, and this film is full of it.
What I think goes on to strengthen this dialogue is the characters that the Coen brothers fill their films with, this film being no different. From George Clooney to Tilda Swinton to an actor who I wasn’t aware of but certainly am now, Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar! Is filled with great talent but even better than that are the characters they all play. All of them have those unique little Coen Brother things which make them characters that you want to see more of, and all of them are faultless in their delivery. The Coen Brothers get so much right and the characters in this film are certainly one of them.
While the Coen’s know how to write some greatly enjoyable dialogue and then have some bizarrely fascinating characters speak it. They also know how to construct a compelling story – I direct you to look at any of the many films they have written and just remember how good those plots were. So it’s a shame that Hail, Caesar has such an underwhelming plot, that by its end left me with no real feeling of investment. I think part of that has to do with how almost uninterested in the plot the film seemed itself. A lot of the time it seemed more interested in the films within this film rather than Hail, Caesar overall. This means you’ll certainly enjoy the many little moments within the film (little moments that themselves all add up into some greatly enjoyable scenes) but overall will not really get the satisfaction that you want from the whole experience.
I think though, one of the things that stand out the most in this film is just how great it looks. From the sets that scream its era (in front and behind the camera), to the costumes that stand out as quintessential 1950’s attire (again in front and behind the camera’s). This is a film that never once falters in just how good it looks, and each time something new pops up to ogle at, it becomes a whole new fun time of noticing all the little elements and details that make it as brilliant as it is.
The Coen brothers are undoubtedly brilliant at what they do, and a lot of Hail, Caesar shows that. Now of course the film doesn’t hit all its marks, and for some those misses will result in an experience that is not as enjoyable as it is for others. But I’m confident that anyone that is a fan of the Coen’s and their type of films will be pleasantly satisfied with what they have delivered.
I’m going to recommend Hail, Caesar! I wasn’t as in love as I first thought I would be with this film but when it was all said and done, I really enjoyed my time with the film and it is one that I think many others will also enjoy.
I’d love to know what you thought of Hail, Caesar!? So please let me know in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up with my other reviews then you could either follow this blog directly or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and have a great weekend.