Hail Caesar: we who are about to be bored salute you

Hail Caesar has received some outstanding reviews. It is directed by the Coen brothers, so it has to be good, doesn’t it?

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Well not necessarily. One critic said that it was their favourite film about making films. That makes it a long way from being a really great film. Interesting, entertaining in parts,  yes, but great, no.

The main problem with the film is that its structure makes it particular difficult to get it to work well. Looking for Grace  suffered from the same problem: a series of stories that are meant to be connected in some way but don’t click together in any satisfactory or meaningful way.

The action of Hail Caesar  takes place against a background of four films being made in a Hollywood studio in the 1950s, a sand and sandals epic about Jesus and a centurion, an Esther Williams water ballet, a singing cowboy musical and a South Pacific musical.  The plot is held together by story of Eddie Mannix played by Josh Brolin, the studios Mr Fixit, whose job it is to keep all four of the films on schedule and on budget.

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Scarlett Johansson, channelling Esther Williams plays a mermaid

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Channing Tatum, channelling Gene Kelly,  plays Burt a singer who is also a Communist

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 George Clooney, channelling  Kirk Douglas plays the gormless Baird Whitlock

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Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, channelling Kirby Grant as the singing cowboy

Throughout the film, we see numerous and lengthy takes from these four films and they are pretty boring. They might have been good in the 50s but now they’re just plain boring.

Perhaps that’s the point and the Coen brothers wish to subvert the nostalgia for the films of the 1950s and show that it is misplaced. But is it necessary to bore the audience witless to prove that these films were boring? There has to be better way.

Nonetheless, there are some brilliantly funny scenes. One is where director Laurence Laurentz, an acclaimed European film director, played by  Ralph Fiennes  tries to teach Hobie Doyle, whose acting skills are limited to twirling a lasso and singing, to say  “Would that it twere so simple.”

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 Hobie Doyle and Laurence Laurentz: not so simple at all
Given the stellar cast, there are always going to be a lot of good scenes. Tilda Swindon is superb as Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker, identical twin sisters  who are gossip columnists for rival newspapers.
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 The presence of Thora  and Thessaly adds to the manic energy of Eddie Mannix’s world.
 Hail Caesar has all the wit, charm and intelligence that we have come to expect from the Coen brothers but the long segments of the 1950’s provided deadweight that ultimately leaves the film semi-submerged.

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