james debate
james debate

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Directed by The Coen Brothers
Written by The Coen Brothers
Produced by The Coen Brothers
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton
Studio Universal Pictures
Running time 106 minutes

hail caesar review coen brothers josh brolin george clooney channing tatum scarlett Johansson

Everybody knows the Coen Brothers. The celebrated writer/director duo have 15 Academy Award nominations between them, winning two of them for Fargo and No Country for Old Men. The critics love them, the awards love them, and the audience loves them. Their name has become synonymous with high quality cinema.

In truth though, their comedies can be a bit hit or miss, as anyone who saw Burn After Reading will attest. That particular film is not the only, but probably the best example of the brothers' flawed approach to comedy, a grab bag of amusing bits hamstrung together with only the weakest of narrative threads.

Hail, Caesar! is a film which on first glance appears very much in the same vein, albeit executed with far greater skill. The jokes are funny enough, occasionally side-splittingly so, but the whole thing is just so lightweight.

In brief, Hail, Caesar! revolves around a film studio during the golden age of Hollywood of the 1950s. One of the actors, George Clooney goes missing, and studio fixer Josh Brolin tries to find him. There are various additional plot threads involving other actors and movie productions which only lightly relate to the central story.

We spent the whole movie expecting something more to happen, waiting for the plot to take off, but it never really did. Instead one can't help but leave the cinema feeling as though they have just watched some immaculately produced sketch comedy, a series of disparate but undeniably witty scenes which never really add up to anything greater. In the most extreme examples, there are whole scenes and character threads which honestly contribute nothing to the overall plot of the film.

Fortunately there are two things in particular that make Hail, Caesar! well worth your time. The first is the brilliant production. This movie looks and sounds pitch perfect, in particular during the all too brief segments showing the films within a film, which have been lovingly and impressively crafted to look for all the world like actual films from the 1950s. We see everything from an old fashioned western, to a musical, a Roman blockbuster, and classier prestige pictures. Some of the clips we see look like such perfect recreations of the production style of this era that it's truly uncanny, and they're a joy to watch.

The second is the phenomenal all-star cast, which includes Clooney and Brolin as mentioned, but also Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and most impressively relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich who manages to carry one of the larger roles in the film without looking out of place against such illustrious colleagues.

But the smaller roles too are a veritable parade of "oh hey it's that guy!" moments, including the recognizable faces of Wayne Knight of Seinfeld, Dolph Lundgren, Allison Pill, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz, Michael Gambon, and many others. But the pick of the bunch is Robert Picardo of Star Trek: Voyager recognition who briefly steals the film during his one scene as a rabbi consulting on a film about the crucifixion. At every level, in every role, the casting is absolutely perfect.

So ultimately Hail, Caesar! is definitely worth watching, even though it fails to deliver the level of product that one might have hoped from such a dizzying array of talent. It's a grab-bag of pretty damn funny, if only lightly connected scenes, featuring some brilliantly produced moments of Hollywood nostalgia and great performances throughout.

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