Hail, Caesar! is the Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest project and it revolves around a burnt out Hollywood executive and fixer (Josh Brolin) attempting to keep the studio’s stars in line in 1950’s Hollywood. These capers include a kidnapped movie star (George Clooney), twin tenacious columnists looking for a story (Tilda Swinton), the studio’s darling (Scarlett Johansson) avoiding an ex-marital scandal, new pretty boy on the block (Alden Ehrenreich) vs veteran classical director (Ralph Fiennes) and the revelation of a study group with communist tendencies.
In typical Coen Brothers style this is a film that is as unique to their following as it is alienating to those who don’t recognise their style of filming. While the numerous intertwining mini plots all show an over the top and extravagant view of the problems a studio of that era may have faced it is actually portrayed with a fondness and comes across as a homage to the film industry of the 50’s.
Across the board the acting ensemble is fantastic. Clooney’s abducted actor is 1 part bumbling 2 parts man child and fits the victim bill with charismatic ease. Scarlett Johansson’s gentle and elegant visual beauty is counteracted with her hoarse voice and blunt manner & adds the necessary sass to respond to her impending bastard child. Ehrenreich and Feinnes butt heads convincingly as 2 creative from the opposite end of the movie spectrum and share a couple of scenes that are hilarious. I also challenge you to find a more enjoyable introduction to a character than Channing Tatum’s breathtakingly ridiculous all singing all dancing routine. Ridiculous in the fact that the talent Tatum seems to have is endless.
While many of the plot points play on popular myths of its time it is the attention to detail in the production that is brilliant. Whether it is the vivid set colours or the authentic dress of that era, everything is of the highest standard and compliments each other to make the viewing experience enjoyable and the acting on show convincing.
In the past the Coen Brothers have been criticised for sacrificing a more detailed or satisfying plot for style and there will be those who will level the complain here too. Hail, Caesar! never really comes across as a sum of its parts, and by this I mean that there are many, many great scenes in the film, they just don’t come together to bring about something that recognisable overall. This combined with the fact that the narrative is all over the place make it is hard to see what the message the Cohen’s are trying to get across through the shenanigans portrayed, its plotless nature will be a turn off for many viewers. On the flip side those who embrace it on face value will be treated with a collection of great set ups which meander towards having a fun time. It is this, the quirky Cohen Brothers nature, that makes the traditional development of the characters less important. Instead the film relies on the strength of the scenes to successfully captivate the viewers.
Although the narrative may be a struggle for some, one thing the directors do is maintain the balance of cynicism against the feel good factor. For every disappointing glare or lecture our fixer (although more like glorified babysitter at times) is giving there is an abundance of witty banter that bounces around the place and really is a testament to how well the script is put together.
Hail, Caesar! is a lot of style over substance but is also a lot of fun. The film is made non traditionally but great performances and a strong script with high production value pull together to make something that is very insular, very unique and very watchable. Coen fans will no doubt enjoy but its plotless narrative won’t be for everyone.