Seeing the previews for this movie whilst cramming in as many Oscar-nominated movies as I’m wont to do in the month of January, I got pumped. The cast for Hail, Caesar! looked so stacked, with George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johansson winking at me from trailers and subway ads alike. The Coens always know what they’re doing, right? … Right?
Eh, no. Sort of. Sometimes. This movie gave me the sinking feeling that either they, the Coens, or their studio (ironically) were pushing to have this thing out before the Oscars, and they tried desperately, but it didn’t happen for whatever reason. So the finished film had all the makings of one of the best of the year — aforementioned stacked cast, fascinating storyline about old Commie Hollywood, profound statements to be made about abortion/gossip/homosexuality, Clooney’s legs always exposed — but reeked of a rushed, corners-cut final few weeks of production. A travesty, if you ask me.
I think of all CoeBroes movies as unique takes on film noir, and this one in particular can best be summed up as a film noir about the noir of film — that is, the quote-unquote seedy underbelly of Hollywood. The way people get famous without being talented, the way talented people get shoved aside when life happens to them, the way “talent” is all about timing and luck, really. All of these topics bubble up, but they never quite boil — and the movie never really simmers, if you’ll allow me to perpetuate that cooking metaphor.
Of course, I laughed just as much as I would with any other CoeBroes movie. They’re good at that sort of dark-humor thing. Clooney’s legs were, I think, the star(s), and I must give the Bros credit for letting us look at them the whole time. As movie-within-a-movie star Baird Whitlock, he was in the middle of filming the titular movie, only to be captured by Commies, so he spend the entire two hours grappling with roofies and a prop sword. I bet getting into costume every day was a joy. Made for great comedy, though. Ralph Fiennes also thoroughly delivered as daft director Laurence Laurentz, and his scenes with the Broes’ new guy (there’s one in every movie!) Alden Ehrehreich were classically, perfectly structured. Pure comedy, again. And Frances McDormand made her reliable cameo, basically stealing the show as a film processor who gets her sweater stuck in a rickety machine. Gold. Also have to dole out some points to the Broes for giving Charming Taters the go-ahead to learn to tap dance and for including a mesmerizing synchronized-swimming scene. Even though you can feel my disappointment for this moving seeping into the coming paragraphs, it’s worth the ticket price for those sequences.
Onto the disappointment, now. Remember how I said Hill and Johansson were in this movie? They were, for a total of about 4 minutes. They got top billing over Tilda Swinton, who played TWO roles in TWO times the gorgeous costumery. I don’t understand Hollywood, which is again ironic, considering that this movie was meant to somewhat skewer and explain Hollywood. Hill even made a joke about how minor his role was in his most recent SNL monologue, which I found satisfying.
And, as much as I love Josh Brolin, I didn’t feel that he was a dynamic enough presence to carry the movie as its lead character, Eddie Mannix. Mannix was supposed to be a scattered, stretched-too-thin guy, in charge of too many decisions with too much at stake, but Brolin’s subtle lack of confidence translated into the entire tone of the movie — and his weak voicever just made it worse. It left me wanting a more deeply satisfying story and a more artful ending, something I know the Broes could have delivered with more time.