Barton’s Movie Reviews – HAIL, CAESAR!

No other filmmakers out there today have a more diverse filmography than the Coen brothers. For over thirty years now, the Coen brothers have been bringing us films that span across a wide array of genres. Comedy, gangster, thriller, Western and even romance have all been covered by the duo, each varying in their levels of absurdity.

Their latest effort, Hail, Caesar!, is a comedy that was amongst my list of highly anticipated films of 2016. The Coen brothers are enough of a draw for me but when you look at the cast they assembled, you’d be crazy not to get excited. How disappointing it is for me to say that this is not the film I was hoping for, finding the Coen brothers far from their best.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is head of production at Capitol Pictures in 1951 Los Angeles. Also working as the studio’s fixer, Mannix keeps a close eye on the goings on at the studio, keeping any scandalous behaviour of its stars out of the press as much as he can.

During production of the studio’s next big release, Hail, Caesar!, major movie star and lead of the film, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped and held for ransom of $100,000. Mannix must solve the mystery of who has taken Whitlock, all while juggling the troubles of other stars of the studio.

I found it hard to really take to the story that the Coen brothers were trying to tell in Hail, Caesar!, something I rarely say after watching one of their films. It felt very unbalanced in pace with the runtime feeling a lot longer than it actually was and, more disappointingly, came across as a bit stilted rather than a film that flows, making it harder to watch.

Hail, Caesar! ultimately feels like a load of random scenes patched together to distract us away from a story that is rather weak when you compare it to other films from the Coen brothers. That’s not to say these scenes ruin the film though, a song and dance number that introduces us to Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney being one of the stand-out moments. 

The script, written by the duo, is definitely a shining light for this film. It always seems to be the case with the Coen brothers that they manage to produce a high quality script. There are two scenes that come to mind right away; Ralph Fiennes’ Lawrence Laurentz trying to get the desired pronunciation from Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle, the star of his movie, and a scene very early on in the film where Mannix is discussing the depiction of Christ in the studio’s major picture with a group of leaders from different religions. 

I found myself enjoying the performances given by the talented cast on display. Josh Brolin gives the Coen brothers a tough lead in Mannix while George Clooney plays the goofball ever so well, just as he did in Burn After Reading. It’s Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show though with his performance as Hobie Doyle, a singing Western star forced to move to a period drama in order to broaden his appeal. Ehrenreich is marvellous in the scene he shares with Ralph Fiennes, expertly conveying the limit of his abilities and innocence of his character through facial expressions.

The Coen brothers once again work with cinematographer Roger Deakins on Hail, Caesar! and the results are deeply satisfying. Deakins is a master of his craft and I cannot express how much I love just how perfect he shoots night sequences. 

As much as I liked other aspects of the film, the lack of investment I had in the story leads me to say that Hail, Caesar! is the first major disappointment I have had at the cinema this year.

Verdict: ★★★

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