Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Heather Goldenhersh, Max Baker, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Wayne Knight, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill & Michael Gambon
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
I’ve made several attempts at writing an introduction that produces my feelings or reflections on Hail, Caesar!. Upon writing this one sentence I’ve discovered why that is.
I’m still debating what the main focus of Hail, Caesar! is meant to be. It’s a light-hearted tour of yesteryears world of make-believe that reflects on 1950’s society, but what is it going for? Is it a comedy? The answer is yes to a certain degree, but the conundrum is whether or not the Coen brothers deliberately avoided building Hail, Caesar! upon a foundation humour or if their comedic well has run dry. For the record I don’t think it has, but a discussion on the exploitation of Jesus in cinema is the single highlight in terms of quality wit. The rest of the film that’s constituted by comedy is buffoonery at best for all the wrong reasons. It’s a slide from which Hail, Caesar! never recovers.
Upon consideration my interpretation has been misconstrued, and not by any fault of the creators themselves. In hindsight the marketing may take some of the blame for this. For starters Hail, Caesar! looks like an ensemble, but Jonah Hill, despite appearing on the promotional poster, has one scene with three short lines, and the sub-plot involving both him and Scarlett Johansson is so incidental the main narrative remains intelligible without it. The only thing holding them all together is Eddie Mannix (Brolin). His performance, as well as Clooney’s and Ehrenreich’s, makes the trip to the cinema worthwhile.
This is because the many sub-plots are so fragmented and so incautiously pieced together there’s no progressive flow to a logical conclusion. It takes the film far too long establish its main narrative, then sidetracks while it focusses on creating several new ones. By the time it returns to George Clooney’s predicament the continuity is lost. Burt Gurney’s (Tatum) sailor dance number is amazingly orchestrated, choreographed and filmed, but it’s entirely random inclusion into the main plot is so poorly executed it’s cheap slapstick at best and doesn’t fit with the tone in the rest of the film.
And where did that brief and sudden change in tone emanate? Why is it so obvious that the central storyline is far too thin to carry one-hundred and six minutes? Is there a three-hour cut that we don’t know about? It would explain the abounding loose ends and why the final scene is so abrupt and devoid of any satisfying finality or conclusion. The film just stops. As a demonstration of how terrible that is I’m stopping right now.