Hail, Caesar! (2016)

*. I would never want to deny that Joel and Ethan Coen are a pair of talented filmmakers, and they work with some of the best in the business, but doesn’t that make a bit of fluff like Hail, Caesar! even worse? What the hell was the point of this movie?
*. It’s a love letter to Hollywood’s ever-golden age, and there’s nothing Hollywood loves as much as it loves loving itself. Since critics are part of the same perpetual circle jerk, they mostly climbed on board as well. Audiences, however, were less enthused.
*. I didn’t hate Hail, Caesar! It’s a very hard movie to hate. The photography by Roger Deakins is sensational in a glossy, artificial manner, and the cast is polished to the point where they even manage to inject subtlety into what are caricatures. But I have no idea why the Coen brothers made this movie at this point in their careers. It’s a comedy but there’s nothing at all funny going on. And heaven knows the film biz has been sent up countless times before. Does going from Billy Wilder to this count as progress? Or going from Barton Fink to this?
*. There are a bunch of skits to go along with the filming of a biblical epic, some aquatic follies, a Western, a sophisticated drawing-room drama, and a musical. None of these has any authentic period feel (they are twenty-first century parodies), and the only slightly amusing one has Ralph Fiennes trying to teach a cowboy actor (Alden Ehrenreich) how to say his lines. I don’t think any of the others even qualifies as droll.
*. Tying all this together is a flimsy plot full of in-jokes that has star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being kidnapped by a society of communist screenwriters. Studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has to somehow keep everything going. He does. Can we get a happy ending? We can.
*. At one point I was wondering just how much real story there was in this film. I figured maybe 20 minutes worth. The rest is cameos (despite star billing, they’re really cameos) and filler.
*. Does Hail, Caesar! have anything new or interesting to say about the movie business? About politics? About faith? I came up with nothing. I guess the Coen brothers found something amusing in all of it, but I couldn’t help feeling I wasn’t in on the joke.

2 thoughts on “Hail, Caesar! (2016)

  1. chandlerswainreviews

    The critical success of the Coen Brothers often eludes me. (Though I am enthusiastic about “Miller’s Crossing”, which is very fine.) In particular, I find their humor, for the most part, strained and self-congratulatory. They do remind me of another filmmaker I thought often overly praised as a matter of critical convenience: Robert Altman.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      They’ve had some hits and misses, and I think the best critics have called them out when they’ve been terrible. But not always. This movie rated 85% on RT with critics and only 44% with audiences. I don’t put much credit in those scores, but when you see that wide a divergence it raises an eyebrow.

      I thought this was a polished piece of work but a total waste of time and talent. I agree with you on their humour. Aside from The Big Lebowski I don’t think the Coens have ever been funny, and yet they keep trying. That’s the mysterious thing to me.


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