I am happy to report that Hail, Caesar! (respect the punctuation!) is not the worst Coen Brothers film. That would be The Ladykillers (2004) followed very closely by Intolerable Cruelty (2003). However, their newest film featuring an all star cast reduced to cameo appearances is not far behind those. This is one of those sad cases where on paper everything was there and everything should have worked but Hail, Caesar! results in a big bore, and the first legitimate snoozefest of 2016.
All of these actors are very talented and have been funny in other films. They just were not funny in this one. The only actors that were actual characters and not just random roles that required only one or two scenes were Josh Brolin as a 1950’s Hollywood studio fixer, George Clooney as a big shot movie star and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as a budding movie star going through an image change. That was it, the rest of the big names you see sprawled across the poster and mentioned in every trailer have only minor parts, most only in the film for less than fifteen minutes. Hail, Caesar! is an enormous waste of talent.
The film opens up with a shot of Jesus on the crucifix and some meaningless narration by British actor Michael Gambon (another wasted talent that served no purpose). Setting up the story that this film is going to tackle themes of religion and how they reflect and affect motion pictures. Sadly the usually reliable Coen Brothers never really make any of their statements on the subject stick. Not in a deep dramatic sense which could be forgiven if their dialogue was funny, but it just was not. While sitting there, I kept waiting to laugh and wanting to laugh but the laughter never came.
There was a scene that summarizes Hail, Caesar! up perfectly involving four religious leaders sitting around a table with Josh Brolin as he tries to get their opinions on the script about Jesus and his suffering at the hands of the Romans. What could have been a great theological discussion resulted in a banal argument that was probably meant to be funny, but never was.
Comedy is a very tricky genre. There is no science to comedy. As stated earlier, all of the ingredients were there to make Hail, Caesar! another comic gem for the Coen’s, but instead they either undercooked or overcooked the script and everything just tasted bland.
That being said there are some elements from Hail, Caesar! that deserve to be commended. It had some very good cinematography from the always reliable Roger Deakins who makes fabulous use of colors in many shots and Carter Burwell’s music sounded great like many of his other scores for Coen Brothers films. It’s best feature was how Hail, Caesar! served as a love letter to 1950’s cinema with many references to the golden age of Hollywood. It captured American culture in the ’50’s well with its mentioning of television cutting in on the movie studios business, cigarette smoking was prevalent and so was the fear of communism and the hydrogen bomb.
Hail, Caesar! also gave some great character actors and past-their-prime lead actors from yesteryear their first roles in a major theatrical film in quite some time. It was nice to see Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo and Dolph Lundgren on the big screen again even though they had minor roles in a predominantly worthless movie.
I must mention that I did laugh twice during Hail, Caesar! which is why the film received a two star grade. Channing Tatum was funny and in one scene shows the world that he can sing and dance so hopefully Hollywood will take note and cast him in a good old fashioned musical worthy of his talents, and Frances McDormand in her one scene as an editor provided the biggest laugh in the entire film.
The best adjective to summarize this film is boring. If you want to see the Coen Brothers take on similar themes of religion and ethics in a much funnier film check out their 2009 Best Picture nominee A Serious Man. A hilarious and dark social commentary about life and faith in early 1960’s Minnesota. Hail, Caesar! is a big bore.
Maybe they needed a tax write-off. Thanks for the review Jadon, we may miss this one.