Hail, Caesar! movie full length review - Not the Coen's best.
Following the excellent Inside Llewyn Davis released in 2013, the Coen Brothers are back with their latest offering, Hail, Caesar!, a film which seeks to poke fun at the old studio system within Hollywood.
Inspired by filmmaking in the 1950s and real-life 'fixer' Eddie Mannix, the Coen's bring their trademark humour to a story which pays homage to much of their earlier work, yet still manages to fall flat and proves to be unfulfilling by the time the time the credits begin to roll.
No strangers to the inner-workings of Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! sees Joel and Ethan Coen take aim at the often peculiar way the business side of filmmaking was handled by studios while juggling a kidnapping plot and an impressive ensemble of actors. Against a backdrop which beautifully captures the glitz and the glamour visible at the surface level of Hollywood in the 1950s, largely thanks to often flawless cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins, the film itself fails to provide any level of depth to it's characters or the narrative. While the elements that shed light on the studio system of old are often fun, they alone are not enough to keep audiences engaged for the entirety of it's 106 minute runtime. There is, however, a coherent plot to be found, however, it falls to the wayside throughout. Instead, the focus is placed squarely upon the pastiche scenes that reference the trends present in filmmaking during the period the film is set, making it feel like a series of sketches threaded together by a thin kidnapping plot that revolves around Josh Brolin's 'fixer', Eddie Mannix. That's not to say these 'sketches' aren't enjoyable, one particular moment revolving around Mannix interviewing a series of religious figures on how offensive the studios latest production may be is hilarious, but they never amount to anything more than a commentary on 50s Hollywood and make the film feel incohesive as a whole.
With an ensemble cast to rival Spotlight and Captain America: Civil War for the best of the year, it's a shame to see so much talent go to waste in nothing more than glorified cameos. Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill are glimpsed only briefly throughout the film, the latter of the ensemble appearing in one short scene, and while each of them is enjoyable to watch and successfully provides a critical yet humorous commentary on Hollywood in the 50s, it would be hard to call them 'characters' as they are in fact nothing more than plot devices to serve this commentary. Tatum aside, the actors filling out the smaller parts within the film don't even exist as plot devices which further the plot, they merely accommodate the satirical elements that are incorporated to poke fun at the old studio system. This is a crime which would be inexcusable had it been committed by a first time action director and one made even worse in a production that has the Coen's names attached to it.
Thankfully, Brolin is excellent as Mannix, the head of production for Capitol Pictures who also keeps the studio's stars in check. With both eyes firmly on the business side of affairs, Mannix is a man plagued with problems and Brolin manages to portray him perfectly as a hard faced and often frustrated man attempting to do his job as best he can while being tempted by a position in a different field. Elsewhere, Alden Ehrenreich provides many of the film's funniest moments as Hobie Doyle, an actor slung into a dramatic role following years of performing in Westerns for the studio. His exchange with Ralph Fiennes regarding the pronunciation of his lines is one of the more enjoyable 'sketches' that appears within the film and one that showcases Ehrenreich at his best in the role, displaying the naivety Doyle as he finds himself out of his comfort zone and caught up in the world of show business. George Clooney is also a welcome addition to the ensemble as Baird Whitlock, a true star of the industry and bumbling fool that finds himself kidnapped by 'The Future,' a group that seeks to dismantle the Capitalist structure within Hollywood, a reference to the Communist movement at the time. While these three salvage the film and ensure it isn't a disaster, their performances alone fail to secure it a position amongst the Coen's best work.
Speaking of which, the two men behind the film may not have a perfect track record, yet they are usually dependable directors, able to craft uniquely charming pictures with a lovable set of characters. Films such as The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and Inside Llewyn Davis have showed us just how capable the Coen's are at creating comedies that succeed as respectable films in their own right, yet their trademark style fails to provide the entertainment it so often has due to the thin plot that borrows from their previous work. The mystery Mannix has to solve is an echo of the ones present in Fargo and The Big Lebowski yet is revealed far too early and packs no punch, the idiot caught up in this mystery, much like The Dude, is present in Clooney's Whitlock, and the kooky supporting characters from all three of the aforementioned titles are littered throughout, albeit with much less presence. While many of the Coen's tropes are recognisable, they fall short of the mark and fail to deliver any lasting impression, making Hail, Caesar! unlikely to bring audiences in time and time again as many of their previous films have.
Never boring but only ever borderline entertaining, Hail, Caesar! features a cast to rival any in recent memory, yet they are underused in a film that places too little focus on it's familiar plot. As a series of sketches on TV, this might have been a success, but as a feature length film, it fails to reach the heights of the Coen's previous work.