From the duo filmmakers whose works span numerous genres & styles, and include some of the boldest American films released in the past few decades, it’s no surprise that many were expecting Hail, Caesar! to be an instant classic and although it does have all the hallmarks of a Coen brothers film, the film isn’t as laudable as their finest efforts.
The story of Hail, Caesar! takes place in the 1950s and follows Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Studios whose job is to keep the scandalous private lives of celebrities out of the press so that their public image isn’t harmed. However, when the lead star of the studio’s major production is abducted, Eddie ends up dealing with a lot more than just fix.
Written, produced, edited & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! is a wonderful throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood as the movie skims through productions of historical epics, period dramas, westerns, musicals & what not while narrating its own story, which doesn’t pack in enough strength to capture & hold one’s attention, and fails to stimulate the senses.
There are a few good laughs here & there but for the most part, it isn’t as amazing as its previews suggested. Only one character’s arc is fully-fleshed, and as for its numerous homages & parodies, it not only includes the old classics but also many sub-par films of the bygone era. Nostalgia runs high here but the film’s main premise doesn’t have enough flesh on the bone, unfortunately.
However, the technical aspects are brilliantly executed. Production design team does a terrific job with the set pieces, each exquisitely carved & meticulously detailed, and also succeeds in creating an authentic 1950s film production studio ambience. Cinematography further enhances the whole imagery with its deft use of warm colour palette, the pacing is steady, while the score & songs sync nicely with the unfolding events.
Coming to the performances, Hail, Caesar! has quite an ensemble in Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum & others. Brolin stays true to his fixer character and delivers a strong performance, Clooney is funny as expected, and Tatum deserves a mention for steering through that ingeniously choreographed musical number with stunning effortlessness.
On an overall scale, Hail, Caesar! features many idiosyncrasies that one has come to expect from the Coens but the laugh-out-loud moments here are few & far in between. Neither the plot nor the characters are compelling enough and there isn’t much to ponder once the credits start rolling. It does work as Coens’ love letter to Classic Hollywood cinema but as a comedy & mystery, it is quite stale & stays on the same level throughout its runtime. In a word, underwhelming.