“It’s confirming what they call the status quo.”
The great divide between critics and audiences usually comes to a head at the feet of siblings Joel and Ethan Coen. In a rarity, I stand with the moviegoers, and don’t believe that the tandem have made a truly great film since 2007’s Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, steadfast in my opinion that many of their movies are vastly overrated (have you tried sitting through The Man Who Wasn’t There?) As historians of cinema filled with an abundance of film knowledge, it’s always clear that the Coens are masters of their craft. But with Hail, Caesar!, a glossy telegram love letter to the art form embossed with their signature deadpan style, they have never felt so indulgent, so hell-bent on forsaking narrative flow for histrionic set pieces. This is minor Coen brothers.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) runs Capitol pictures, a job that requires him to be a circus handler for the menagerie of Golden Age Hollywood stars. It’s about as unenviable a position as there is. Late nights, no sleep, more problems than possible solutions. And it gets even more convoluted once Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), leading man of the eponymous title, is kidnapped with a $100,000 ransom placed on his head. As Eddie walks the studio lots, a modern-day Moses shepherding his flock towards success and away from financial ruin, Hail, Caesar! is about as illustrious an inside look at the studio system as you’re likely to see put on film. That’s about all we get though, because as a story – the basis and foundation of all movies – the picture utterly fails.
Above I said that the Coen’s have never felt so indulgent, and that’s because – for whatever reason – they appear earnest in proving that they can direct the way films used to be made. Hail, Caesar! is full of mini-movies, all meticulously crafted, each vividly detailed. We always believe in the world that the Coen’s gift us. But here there is no glue. No theme, no dramatic tension, and for being a comedy a bizarre exclusion of purposeful laughter. It may be entertaining in spurts, especially Channing Tatum’s turn as a tap dancing sailor in a saloon, yet the movie simply lacks stickiness. I even caught myself dozing off for a millisecond. Not because it’s that bad either. Hail, Caesar! bores because it has no singular bite. To say it’s all over the place is an understatement.
In my review of 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, I noted how much I would love see a Coen brothers movie that they did not also write. That won’t happen, but when filmmakers choose such a non-collaborative path, it’s impossible to go outside the box. To see things from an altered perspective, a different angle, an unfamiliar trajectory. The arts are all about inspiration. Taking a bit of this, a little of that, and combining the pieces in such a way that feels rejuvenated. Hail, Caesar! is their ode to movies, but it’s also a long-winded one without a crescendo. The Coen’s enamored epistle may be addressed to cinema lore, and yet the empty envelope only makes its way returned to sender.
“Maybe we’re biting off more than we can chew.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5