I do enjoy the Coen Brothers work, but I can’t say I’m gushing over this latest picture. It’s fun in places and soars because of a fabulous cast but I felt it was perhaps scattered too much and bereft of a gripping plot.
We find ourselves in the 1950’s and mostly follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood honcho who helps stars and productions keep good press. That could become tricky though as feature star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped in the midst of filming a religious epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!’. A group calling themselves The Future want money for his release and so Mannix must try to get Whitlock back.
Joel and Ethan Coen direct and write this lark and do so with a clear fondness for the way movies come together. The laughs can be found as actors or directors guffaw over choices, most explicitly in the repetitive yet genius scene between Ralph Fiennes’ directing worry with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy icon of Hobie Doyle. The Coen’s flit between different sound stages letting us peek at differing productions which are amusing and interesting but this back and forth never gives the movie a sense of story or tension when there could have been. Without much of a plot this movie does look and sound more like a series of images to be loved by critics or classic film fanatics.
Roger Deakins, who really needs an Oscar by now, is on top form capturing wonder in this filmy feature. The glorious epic feel of the Romans sweeping through the screen or the synchronised swimmers gloriously twirling and floating around bombshell actress DeeAnna Moran played by bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. It looks all the way through like a glorious picture of old, a love letter to the way movies used to be made.
The film did make me chuckle and grin but I never belted a laugh, and nor did many in the audience either, I feel this movie is more subdued and lacking of an engaging narrative than it should be. The angles it bounces off in become so many that characters are lost to minimal moments making them almost unnecessary. We see ideas skewed in from journalist stories, Capitalist thoughts, kidnap, pregnancy fixing, Communism and movie making that it doesn’t ever mesh, each point just hangs there never defined.
The characters are amusing though, their flourishes and their names being so wonderfully goofy and studio send ups. Thora/Thessaly Thacker, Burt Gurney and the winner – Laurence Laurentz. The dance number is toe-tappingly silly, Channing Tatum’s blonde flick and look backs are hilariously over the top and most character looks fall delightfully under the gormless idiot look that the Coen’s so brilliantly encapsulate in their writing. Only a shame that the characters aren’t backed up by a fun or rewarding plot.
Josh Brolin practically does everything as we see him do all the work, finding himself here there and everywhere trying to solve problems and ultimately bring back Baird. He is a straight man, not really demonstrating much comedy as George Clooney does that, going back to his ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ routine to play buffoonish and moronic. It’s not as good as that film or his performance in ‘Burn After Reading’ either but he is still having a ball. Alden Ehrenreich will be one to watch, he plays the singing Western star with such grounded believability that when he steps out of his comfort zone you feel for him, he ends up being the hero of the piece in my mind. Ralph Fiennes once again proves his unquestionable prowess for comic timing, in his two main scenes his face speaks volumes and his delivery adds even more. Scarlett Johansson pulls the cheesy starlet grin with no depth as the mermaid and then counters with a thick accent and a penchant for problems. Tilda Swinton fans get two for the price of one as she portrays twin journalists with a sense of striking fashion and similarly striking headlines. Frances McDormand is a smoking, scarf wearing editor that is merely a cameo but brings in one of the better moments as we see how well the Coen Bros can do dark material. Channing Tatum tap dances his way through as a sailor and more. Hail, Dumbledore! We even get Michael Gambon as a narrator just to make this whole thing more starry and more filmy filmy.
Flecks of brilliance and movie making behind the scenes comedy but a portion empty and flat for my liking. This Coen outing is boosted by a grand cast and a glowing adoration to movies of the golden era.