Hail Caesar has received some outstanding reviews. It is directed by the Coen brothers, so it has to be good, doesn’t it?
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.
Scarlett Johansson, channelling Esther Williams plays a mermaid
Channing Tatum, channelling Gene Kelly, plays Burt a singer who is also a Communist
George Clooney, channelling Kirk Douglas plays the gormless Baird Whitlock
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.”