Rating in Stars: ** (out of ****)
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and smoking)
Running Time: 1:46
Release Date: 02/05/16
(Note: The following review may have spoilers. It’s impossible to tell. Seriously. You might want to see the movie before reading this or any other piece written on it. Good luck.)
So here I am two-and-a-half hours after an advance screening of Hail, Caesar!, the new film from writing/directing duo (and siblings) Ethan and Joel Coen, attempting to write a review. Questions spring up in my mind, mainly one in the form of an acronym that includes the 23rd, twentieth, and sixth letters of the alphabet, in that order. This movie is not one for classification of any particular sort, yet here I sit, trying to classify it with a rating in stars. The advertisements, once again proving their inadequacy at conveying a film’s qualities, sell it as a comic mystery, yet the joke isn’t a very funny one and the central mystery is solved almost immediately. That alone raises a whole load of other questions, most of them personal in nature.
For instance, how in the world can I possibly lead into the narrative-summation part of this review when so much of it is a potential spoiler? Further, how can I detect what is and is not a spoiler when almost all of it, by the final shot, is reduced to being inconsequential? Is all of it really inconsequential, or is the veiled commentary on the capitalistic structure of the Hollywood machine (and one group of men’s response to it) part and parcel with the oddities surrounding that thread? Does one despise the movie for the abject nonsense of the plot’s trajectory, or does one admire it for going whole-hog and not caring what anyone else thinks?
I’m in a state between these two extremes. I could tell you that Baird Whitlock’s (George Clooney) kidnap at the hands of a sort of tribunal with specific political leanings is crucial, but it doesn’t even seem to be so by the man himself, an actor currently shooting a movie within the movie whose name it shares. I could tell you that the ransom money given to them by Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is significant, but I’m not even sure to what end it was supplied. The film is an explosion of ideas that are promptly handled so ineffectually as not to exist and characters that are either dropped unceremoniously or handled as the inspiration of what amounts to a series of extended and pointless cameos.
There’s Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a dreadfully awful actor whose latest starring role in Lawrence Laurentz’s (Ralph Fiennes) Broadway production of Merrily We Dance is going predictably unwell. There’s DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), who is caught in a pickle with her latest romantic relationship and must adopt her own child (or something like that). These seem to be the foremost subplots in the Coens’ screenplay, playing second fiddle (I think?) to the kidnap, which itself seems to be of no consequence even to the culprits of the crime.
The result is a mishmash of form that is occasionally inspired (anything involving Fiennes and Ehrenreich, both of whom are very funny as industry folk on two sides of the camera) and, at an equal pitch, grueling (Sequences that show the process of filming often go on for far too long in a movie that may or may not be padded, even at less than two hours). The actors are constantly playing to the room, the production is glossy but unrefined (Roger Deakins is the director of photography here, but he seems to be having an off-day), and it all comes to mean absolutely nothing before cutting to credits. So, back to a previous question: Despise or admire? With Hail, Caesar!, I’m settling for polite incredulity at an extended in-joke that I didn’t get.