The Coen Brothers are often known for harkening back to older times in American history. The period decor in many of their films is often a major highlight, showing off the impeccable detail that makes one wonder if George Clooney isn’t really venturing through the Depression era south or John Turturro isn’t a screenwriter in early 1940s Hollywood. The latter is especially crucial for the connection it has to Hail, Caesar!, a period comedy set in 1950s Hollywood that populates its incredibly game cast right in the middle of the glossiest era for “The Pictures.” This especially comes through in the incredibly comprehensive production design and near perfect recreation of the “glorious technicolor” cinematography of the time. This is probably at its most lavish during the two astonishingly accurate musical numbers, showing Scarlett Johannson as the starlet of a Esther Williams style swimming production and Channing Tatum gloriously smiling his way through a Gene Kelly-esque song & dance bit while dressed as a sailor.
So much work is put into these fun little diversions, yet they all seem incongruous in the patchwork way they’re applied to the story. Well, what can be called a “story” as it were. These various comedic interludes are all vaguely connected by Josh Brolin’s Hollywood fixer character trying to keep track of the insanity going on with this extremely large cast, mainly in attempting to keep the facade image of these stars’ sanctity alive for the public. Brolin’s struggle lends more credence to the scattershot structure of the film as well as themes related to Clooney’s kidnapping and the facades strung together there, but the madcap energy is squandered on the rather laborious pace. The injection of the kidnapping element has a lot of potential, but the resolve ends up being squandered on a rather long winded joke for a very small punchline. There are other vague tangents about the purpose of existence and what a job truly means for a man’s soul have recurred in other Coen productions, but this one ultimately feels lesser than the sum of its parts. That’s especially a shame when everyone in the cast is so fully committed to their respective roles that make Hail, Caesar! decently enjoyable throughout, but never really coalesce into anything that memorable. The biggest highlight and most fully realized character is Alden Ehrenreich, an affable dope of a B-western star with charm that makes up for his lack of outward acting finesse. Maybe much like other Coen Brothers films before it, Hail, Caesar! will improve with further viewings. As of yet, it’s merely a mildly entertaining exercise in classic Hollywood fetishism.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Communist Martinis