Hail, Caesar! – Review


Hail Caesar is a very interesting film on several reasons for myself so I was genuinely intrigued to see the film. It’s the latest film written and directed by the legendary Coen brothers Joel and Ethan who, by the time of the UK’s release will be coming off their loss at the Oscars for best original screenplay Spotlight. Now granted, I really enjoyed their last script for Bridge of Spies, but I didn’t think it had as much of the stamp that the Coen brothers put on their films like The Big Lebowski or Fargo or even some of the movies that I have really loved them in like their remake of True Grit and of course No Country For Old Men which won them 4 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. This film’s release does mean that it can not be nominated for any Oscars this year so I also went in with the opinion that it was either a bad timing decision or someone at the studio looked at it and said ‘well it’s good, but it’s never going to win any Oscars’. So I wasn’t going in expecting an amazing movie but with the Oscar’s shunning so many really good films these days I’m really not using the Oscar nominations as a judge of amazing quality. If you go to the cinema as much as I do this film’s trailer was in-escapable. Granted, I did think the trailer gave away a little too much of the film prior to seeing it, however, it was intriguing enough to pique curiosity. I actually made an event of it by going down to Picture House the weekend before it officially came out they were showing special screenings on 28 February which I took advantage of. This was useful because it meant I wasn’t rushing back after Axia’s latest conference to see the film. With everything in place, the question is, have the Cohen brothers written another brilliant piece like No Country For Old Men, True Grit, Fargo and The Big Lebowski?

Set in the 1950’s, Capital Picture’s head, Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) is helping to produce the new production ‘Hail Caesar’ which will have one of the biggest stars in America, Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney), however, on set, Baird is kidnapped by a group called ‘The Future’ and held to ransom for $100,000.00. Eddie must get Whitlock back in order to finish what is their most expensive production to date, however, there may be more to The Future’s motivation. Spoiler alert, there isn’t!!

Hail Caesar is a rather difficult film to review because, like most of the Coen brothers films, it feels rather unique, to an extent. The film feels almost primarily like it’s meant to be a homage to 1950’s cinema, and in that instance, it’s great, absolutely fantastic. The film pays homage to everything from big period piece epics like the 10 Commandments or more directly Ben Hur (which is intresting timing considering the remake is due out in the summer), to Busby Berkeley musicals, to John Wayne style westerns and there is even a bit of a homage to Gene Kelly in a musical number that stars Channing Tatum who completely steals the show with that one scene. If this film came out last year I would say that is really should deserve a Best Production Design Oscar Nomination, everything about the homage to the 1950’s feels perfect and the period piece feels like it has accuracy to it, the problem is with everything else. This film isn’t bad per se, it’s actually got a lot of positives to it. The acting, which I will go into later is one of them and that’s not a surprise with the Coen’s writing, directing and producing as well as this all star cast. The problem is the writing feels very under developed. I only described one of the plots going on in this film in the plot summary, there are actually more like 5 or 6 going on individually and they all feel so under developed. They are almost set up in one scene and then solved about 20 minutes later in another scene, in fact I think a couple of them don’t even get a resolution. The individual scenes are actually rather entertaining especially a scene between Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich which is almost a direct homage to the famous acting etiquette scene from Singing In The Rain and George Clooney’s scenes with The Future are actually rather cool, but they are very brief. Some of the characters barely show up on screen at all. Jonah Hill’s character, for example isn’t in the movie outside the scene we saw him in from the trailer. Scarlett Johansson gets a sub plot about being a famous actress who is trying to cover up that she has had a child out of wedlock from the gossip columns and asking the studio to help out, but what’s interesting is that she only appears in 2 scenes. In fact there are large portions of her sub plot that she is not even involved in. There’s a twist quite early on and another one later down the line, but the 2nd twist has very little impact since the character that was involved is barely on screen so we have no reason to really care. The plots really feel like they go nowhere and even the main plot feels rather under done. The kidnapping is treated more as a mild inconvenience than a big earth shattering event like the trailer made it out to be. There is also a weird sub plot around Eddie meeting some kind of a dealer in a restaurant and he was trying to bribe him into support or something like that, it was so weak and un-interesting that I actually forgot what the sub plot was about on the way home. Now while these plots don’t actually go anywhere the individual scenes are rather entertaining especially the scenes that are paying homage to the 1950’s films, for example Channing Tatum gets a musical number part way through the film, there’s also a full scene of a classic western and even a couple of scenes that seem like some of the comedies that Glen Campbell used to be in. One of the problems with the scenes is that they can seem to go on a bit too long and can outstay their welcome, however this only really apparent in the scene where Ralph Fiennes as Director is shooting a drama, though his scenes with Aiden Ehrenreich are hilarious and to die for. There is also a sub plot around the supposed scandal that two sisters, both played by Tilda Swinton are trying to uncover but even that amounts to little. While the individual parts of the film are very well done because they feel rather under developed, it feels like there is a lack of investment for the audience and they don’t amount to a satisfying whole. The Coen’s can do less than traditional structure to their film and make it entertaining, the prime example being The Big Lebowski which is kind of a complex film about very many things with very little connecting them, but that felt much better because everything seemed to be under one plot, this feels like many plots that the Coen’s were throwing around because they wanted to do several types of ideas and homages and they needed to create several sub plots to warrant them, however, they could have cut a good couple of them and the film would have been better for it.

If there is one good thing to say about Hail Caesar it’s that the characters are very entertaining, particularly Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock and Aiden Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle and I would even give a good shout out to Laurence Laurentz played by Ralph Fiennes whose brief time on screen is a joy to watch. I think the first three though is because they got the most screen time, so we knew a lot more about them and were given more time. It really feels like everyone apart from Josh Brolin came to do this film between films. It was like Scarlett Johansson was given a day off from doing The Jungle Book or whatever Marvel film she is going to be in next, or that Ralph Fiennes took a day off from whatever he was filming or George Clooney did this in between takes in Tomorrowland, and everything just feels like a waste. Everyone of these plots could have been interesting, especially the main one. If they had taken the main one and just developed it a bit more we might have had a decent running plot, but as it stands it just doesn’t feel complete and rather inconsequential.

As for the actors, the film has been sold as an all star cast, but really, they are not given much to do. The best performances in the film are arguably Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Aiden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes. Tilda Swinton is as good as usual especially having to play duel roles and sometimes in the same scene, but the problem is that whilst Tilda Swinton is a very talented actress, she is given bad direction by the Coen’s because there is no difference between the sisters she plays so it is difficult to tell the difference between the characters. Channing Tatum doesn’t really get much to do, but his musical number is excellent and it is a real credit to the direction and the choreography which were both sublime, however, outside that, he feels rather under used. Scarlett Johansson is as good as ever and is proving that she is probably rather an under rated actress, however, I’m pretty sure that several of her scenes were cut for time so she feels under used as well. I also rather enjoyed Frances McDormand but I don’t remember him leaving much of a presence and Jonah Hill is a fantastic actor but he really leaves absolutely no presence in this film whatsoever. The film is really sold as being an all star cast but really you are not getting much out of them. Josh Brolin, as I said is fantastic in his role, George Clooney is a much better actor than many people give him credit for, and I know George Clooney in a movie directed by the Coen’s, who would have thought that! Aiden Ehrenreich really feels like a western star from the 1950’s who has been pulled through time just to be in this movie, but even their performances can’t save the fact that this cast delivers good performances but feels rather wasted. I haven’t even mentioned half of the other named actors that are in The Future, including Max Baker or any of the other actors, one of which I swear was one of the writers in Spotlight, that’s probably because their writing motivation was so weak and under developed that it probably affects their performances, oh and by the way don’t look up their names on IMDB because it completely gives away the motivation of The Future in this film. Also apparently Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown are in this movie but they’re both glorified cameos

As for production design, however, the film is fantastic. The film feels like the 1950’s, the shots are well done, the camera pans rather like a 1950’s film, the filters work very well, the effects are decent and the costume design is fantastic. From a production standpoint the film is excellent. The soundtrack also suits the time period perfectly and in those terms it’s almost a perfect time capsule of cinema in that period. The set designs are also fantastic and it’s a real credit to people behind the scenes, they all have done a fantastic job, it’s just too bad that the film is not built on visuals and production design alone.

The real problem with Hail Caesar is down to its running time. The film feels really short, clocking in at 1hr and 46 minutes and I think a lot of scenes were cut for time, which is a shame because I think if the film had been 20 minutes longer a couple of these sub plots could have been more developed. Hail Caesar is a rather well made movie but has rather an under developed script which is what really holds it back. The performances are all good even though most of the cast don’t get much to do and honestly it feels too short and it feels like it could have easily gone on longer. The film does have an excellent production design and is a perfect tribute to 1950’s cinema but I felt it could have given us more. The Coen brothers can make movies that have less structure and more just exist to be movies like The Big Lebowski, but I kind of preferred their more structured works like No Country For Old Men and True Grit where they are being kept on a leash because of their source material, when they are left on their own like they are with this movie, I think they can often go a bit too far, however on this occasion, I don’t think they go far enough and it reeks of them trying to bite off more than they could chew.

It’s not totally bad, this will be a very interesting film to watch on NetFlix on a movie night with your mates and you won’t come out hating it, a couple of moments really made me laugh. The film can be very entertaining at times which is a credit, it just doesn’t measure up to a perfect whole. Wait for it to come out on DVD and get it on a rental.

Did you go and see Hail Caesar and what are your thoughts on it? Did you agree with me? Please leave a comment, I welcome all opinions.

“What do you think is George Clooney’s best performance?”

Well my last three reviews haven’t been exactly positive, but maybe my next one will be more positive. It’s one of my most anticipated movies of 2016 and a sequel to one of my favourite animated films ever, come back on 18 March where I will be reviewing the sequel to the Dreamwork’s animated film “Kung Fu Panda 3”.

Thanks for reading my review I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

“Have you been to see Deadpool yet, if not why not???”

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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