Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
Film review by Yasmin Omar
It’s no secret that the advertising campaign for Hail, Caesar! has been aggressive. Since the closing months of 2015, we’ve been bombarded with trailers for the new Coen brothers’ movie. Excitement mounted. Clooney’s back (obviously), cast once again as a slow-witted buffoon à la O Brother, Where Art Thou? or Burn After Reading. This time, he stands alongside a cast that is so superlatively star-studded, it fully illuminates the Beverly Hills night sky. My expectations had swelled to new heights. It was in this frame of mind that I went to see Hail, Caesar!, giddily clasping the helium balloon of my enthusiasm.
It was swiftly punctured. My relationship with the Coens has to be filed under “it’s complicated,” jaggedly spiralling between love and hate. Conceptually, Hail, Caesar! should work. Through the weary gaze of overworked studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), we’re given an insight into the quotidian pitter-patter of Hollywood’s motion picture Golden Age, full of whimsical characters and farcical setbacks. It’s exactly this type of industry naval-gazing that has birthed some of cinema’s most memorable films from Sunset Boulevard (1940) to Singin’ in the Rain (1952) or, more recently, The Artist (2011) and Birdman (2014). Alas, in the case of Hail, Caesar! the spectators are overwhelmed with a mishmash of fraying subplots, which fail to stitch up satisfactorily. You’re not Jean-Luc Godard, guys, just give us a three-act plot and we’ll be happy.
The mise-en-abymes are decidedly more entertaining than the movie itself. I loved the musical number, No Dames, which stages Channing Tatum as a wannabe Gene Kelly, dressed in crisp navy garb in the manner of Gabey in On the Town (1949), tap-dancing away on table tops as Kelly does in the song Moses Supposes. In all honesty, I’d rather have watched that. If Joel and Ethan had extended that sequence into a feature length film, they would’ve had my undivided attention. I couldn’t help but notice that the peals of riotous laughter from the audience of the film-within-a-film Lazy Ol’ Moon embarrassingly juxtaposed with the muted responses of my fellow moviegoers. There were sniggers, sure, and yet – given that Hail, Caesar! is reputedly a comedy – there was little audible confirmation of this in the Picturehouse I was in. The visual gags aren't funny. Frances McDormand gets her tie caught in a projector reel. Yawn. George Clooney sits on his sword. And what? You can do better than this, you two. We know. We’ve seen your previous work. As multi-Oscar winning directors, the Coens should also know by now that duplicating an actor rarely works. Tilda Swinton’s turn as gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker is less Armie Hammer in The Social Network and more Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor. It’s disappointing to see such capable directors flounder in Hail, Caesar’s! series of incongruous vignettes.
My advice? Stay at home and re-watch The Big Lebowski. I really wish I had.