Arguably one of the most divisive films in the Coen Brothers catalog is 2016’s Hail, Caesar! The movie has an all-star cast that includes Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, and Frances McDormand. The film focuses on the early 1950s, where Eddie Mannix is the problem solver for actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest problem? Baird Whitlock has been kidnapped and the studio must pay $100,000 in order to retrieve their leading man. Mannix goes on a wild goose chase involving a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a handsome dancer, and a beautiful swimmer.
Upon release, Hail, Caesar! received glowing reviews from critics and currently stands at 85% on rotten tomatoes. However, that number is completely opposite when it comes to the audience score, which currently boasts a low 44%. As a writing and directing team, this is the lowest audience score for Joel and Ethan Coen, with Burn After Reading treading behind with 65%. Still, Hail, Caesar! did manage to receive one Academy Award nomination despite its mixed reviews.
So, what’s the problem with Hail, Caesar!? The movie is made by the same men who create gems like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and True Grit. This film had all the ingredients to be one of the best pictures that the Coen Brothers ever made. Is Hail, Caesar! the worse movie made by highly acclaimed filmmakers? Well…Yes and no. Hail, Caesar! is far from a BAD film. In fact, many directors wish they could have a movie like Hail, Caesar! The problem is that the 2016 film had a confusing marketing promotion.
In the first trailer, Hail, Caesar! is billed as a comedy-mystery/thriller surrounding George Clooney’s character, Baird Whitlock. The problem is, when you actually watch the movie, it’s not about Whitlock at all. Yes, George Clooney’s character is kidnapped, but there’s little mystery behind his disappearance and it’s definitely not the focal point of the film. While the trailer does highlight that Eddie Mannix as the center of the “investigation”, the film is actually about Eddie trying to fix the various problems in tinsel town. It’s basically a love letter to old Hollywood, as multiple stories are interwoven throughout the picture. The problem? It is reminiscent to Pulp Fiction or even Crash.
Don’t get me wrong, Hail Caesar! doesn’t try to be either film. However, the interwoven stories don’t have anything to do with the main plot of Baird Whitlock, leaving a jumbled mess whose momentum is derailed when the story isn’t focused on the kidnapping. Say what you will about Crash, but the film does have a coherent story from beginning to end. While it may have different character arcs throughout, the overall theme of the movie remains consistent. The same thing can be said about Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case with Hail, Caesar!.
The thing is, there is some fun to be had in this film. Alden Ehrenreich stands out in the all-star cast, as there are several hilarious moments involving Hobie Doyle. One of the funniest scenes in the film is his interaction with Ralph Fiennes‘ Laurence Laurentz. The chemistry between both men is amazing and the whole sequence plays out perfectly. Does his arc take away momentum from the core story? Yes, but there’s no denying the fun that comes with his story.
Scarlett Johansson feels wasted in the small role that she has. While her scenes do have better ties to the main plot, there’s surprisingly little meat to her story. As previously mentioned, the Baird Whitlock plot doesn’t have much to the story in itself. While the big mystery kidnapper isn’t revealed until nearly the end, there isn’t much build-up to the moment despite the brimming potential the arc has. Channing Tatum being a wannabe communist is good fun and the actor does a good job with the role he’s given. It’s just a shame that the movie doesn’t truly focus on his villainess character other than his gay sailor routine.
Not surprisingly, the acting is top-notch, even though some of the scenes feel like unnecessary time filler. There are really great moments of dialogue sprinkled throughout the film, though this won’t rank on anyone’s best list when it comes to the Coen Brothers dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the lines in this film, but they just aren’t memorable like the colorful dialogue in Fargo or The Big Lebowski. As previously stated, this is far from a bad movie per see; it’s just a disappointing mess that was advertised incorrectly.