Sometimes, a movie can be too smart for it’s own good. Hence the primary problem with Hail, Caesar is that despite it’s impressive wit and charm, it falls flat everywhere else.
I’m not sure if Coen-verse is an actual term, but I’m coining it right now if it isn’t. The Coen brothers are very successful at establishing solid environments for their new characters to play in. It’s the reason that The Big Lebowski can get away with a Seinfeld ending where nothing really changed at the end. Because the characters are so darn interesting in their section of the universe, we don’t care that they didn’t change much by the end of it. It’s almost like having static characters in a dynamic universe. The bowling alley contains a selection of colorful characters (Walter, Donny, The Stranger, Jesus Quintana), that help fill in the gaps we need in this universe. But they remain static and simply react to the dynamic things occurring around them just like the Dude.
However, when that doesn’t work, you can occasionally get coated in a thick layer of your friend’s ashes.
There’s one moment that demonstrates the frustrated, head scratching feeling I received from this film. The Channing Tatum dance number in the middle of the film. I’ll give you a cookie if you can tell me what it’s purpose was. Sure, it was a cool homage and nod to the time period, but when we literally have only two real scenes with Tatum in them, one being the dancer number and the other when he leaves for Russia (I’ll leave you in suspense because I actually thought this was cool and interesting even if we know nothing about his character), I have to turn back to this dance number and ask
“Why is this in here when we have learned next to nothing about this character?”
All of the other characters, except maybe the members of The Future (we will cover them in a moment) fit the typical mold and function of Coen-verse characters. Tatum’s Burt Gurney could have fit that bill as well, but we’ll never know cause he was on screen way too short. The Coen’s are certainly allowed to define their characters as they see fit. I’m simply arguing that they definitely could have done more with Tatum in these moments.
Absurdity For A Cause
Our protagonist, Josh Brolin’s character Eddie Mannix is based off real-life Hollywood studio head and “fixer”, Eddie Mannix, bearing a few similarities and a scoop of artistic license here. However, this film is not about getting his life historically accurate. It’s more of a showcase based off the Hollywood golden age and Mannix is our window into it. Being the studio head puts him into contact with every piece of the film and his status as a fixer drives his actions or conflicts with various actors and situations. Through Mannix, we get pointed snapshots to various threads of the 1950’s, like how the movie industry dealt with communism. Or, American cultural issues, such as the studio’s issue with DeeAnna Morgan (Scarlett Johansson) being pregnant and unwed. These normal issues lead to some funny and entertaining moments like Mannix arranging for DeeAnna to secretly hide her pregnant child and then later adopt her to make it seem as if she never had a child while single and unwed.
That entire thread was entirely ridiculous but it’s an interesting way to highlight what was a very real practice. By using such an absurd solution to fix the problem, it helps us as the audience recognize that this old practice of shaming, hiding, or shuffling away pregnant women was a terrible aspect of the culture.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse about wasting Tatum’s time in this film. There’s a better section of the film that never came together for me and it has to do with the future…
George Clooney’s character Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped by The Future, a group of communist supporting Hollywood writers who want to make a mark on Hollywood by ransoming Whitlock. The problem from the start is that the dialogue feels a bit disjointed compared to the rest of the film. It still work well enough to move us through these moments where Whitlock learns more about communist agendas. However, the wit doesn’t match the high level in other parts of the film. The film slows down here to make sure we get what is going on, but it may take you out of the fun experience you were having.
There’s an excellent moment between western movie star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph (Fiennes) as Laurentz attempts to walk Doyle through his first lines as he joins Laurentz’s more prestigious feature film. I’m sure they spent multiple takes playing in this space and it’s going to last as a very memorable scene. Kudos to Ehrenreich and Fiennes for keeping it together and giving us that moment.
Hail, Caesar certainly delivers a fun love letter to a period that’s been revisited frequently in the last year, (Bridge of Spies and Trumbo) and asks some interesting questions of it too. Some of the silliness may be a bit too much at certain moments and cause incongruity with the slow parts, but it will still stand as a solid addition to the Coen Brother library.
Hail, Caesar 7.5 out of 10
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