Despite the big stars and spectacular visuals, Hails Ceasar falls a bit flat
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan and Joel Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenriech, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton
Length: 1 hour 46 minutes
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), director of Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, is busy solving the problems of the actors and filmmakers of the studio when star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. As Mannix tries to get Baird back he has to deal with a score of other people’s problems including pregnant dancer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), media rivals and twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) and cowboy actor turned romantic lead Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenriech) while under pressure to decide about a job offer that could alleviate his guilt about how the long hours of his current job prevent him from seeing his family.
I always worry when a film gets lauded among film reviewers and I don’t like it. It makes me think I’m not understanding this film how I’m supposed to or I’m simply a miserable curmudgeon who just doesn’t like things! Probably both these things are true, irregardless I think a film should, if not necessarily be enjoyable, arise some kind of emotion and Hail Ceasar did not deliver.
Read any review and you know the kidnapping plot is not the main feature of the film. Instead its a scaffolding from which to display tributes to the golden era of Hollywood. And these tributes are impressive, colourful and spectacular glimpses of sets from movie genres spanning westerns, romances, musicals and the historically epic of Hail Ceaser that George Clooney’s characters is starring in. The musical number with Channing Tatum is by far the best one of these snippets with as breathtaking choreography as in any music of the time.
The film also offers a look at the machine that was Hollywood, with Josh Brolin’s character in charge of overseeing all the different types of movies in the studios as well as manufacturing the actor’s lives to attract the right kind of press. The scene when Hobie takes starlette Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) out to dinner is saddening and touching, with both young actors accepting that part of being a movie star is that all corners of your life become an act and the two have a good time together in spite of this.
All these aspects alongside the humorous plot device of all the screenwriters being communists (being the lowest paid, least recognised part of the industry it makes sense they would be) should make for a fun film. But for me Hail Ceaser doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a homage to Hollywood or a pastiche of Hollywood, hovering somewhere in the middle with the jokes not as funny as they could be and the tributes not as moving as they could be either. The array of stars fall a bit flat, apart from Ralph Fiennes who does a good bit as a pretentious British director, as if simply there presence is supposed to engage us without any interesting acting required. Newcomer Alden Ehrenriech is by far a standout performance, he makes the dim but well meaning Hobie a comedic, sympathetic and loveable character. If he’d been made the protagonist rather than Josh Brolin I think the film would have captured the feel it was trying to go for. As it is, despite the amount of things going on on screen, I left the cinema feeling pretty meh.