“Hail, Caesar!” is a Minor Coen Brothers Effort

by Simon Williams on February 5, 2016

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Up]


The Coen Brothers have been on a bit of a roll for a few years now. Save the divisive Burn After Reading, every film of theirs since 2007’s No Country for Old Men has been considered a career highlight. A Serious Man is the best expression of their philosophy to date. True Grit helped usher in a new, gritty, literary era for the Western. Inside Llewyn Davis is possibly the finest character study of the new decade. Though their actual involvement has been limited, they have provided a platform for some fantastic television with the Fargo anthology series.

And Hail, Caesar!?

Well Hail, Caesar! is fun. I guess.

Hail Caesar! stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johannsen, newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, personal favorite Ralph Fiennes and features small turns from Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand and a poorly dubbed Christopher Lambert who I could’ve sworn was dead. With that many stars one wonders how even the Coen Company could handle it. The answer: they don’t.

An homage to classic Hollywood, Hail Caesar!’s plot really does not matter. It’s akin to The Big Lebowski in that the plot exists merely as a method to project its characters from comic setpiece to comic setpiece, without any real larger framework or meaning. The Big Lebowski, however, had personality for days and a sharpness to its humor that made each setpiece feel pointed and specific. Hail Caesar! (man that exclamation point is getting annoying), instead, feels half-committed. It feels almost like a miniseries edited down to the length of a feature, with plotlines and even characters roles trimmed down to fractions of their necessary size. One in particular, featuring a pregnant Scarlett Johannsen, runs by so quickly we barely have time to get into the running jokes.It’s like driving past a street performer, you’re sure it would be entertaining if you stopped but dammit there are places to be! There’s also a plotline featuring Tilda Swinton as twin tabloid reporters that really is trying so hard to be funny but bless its heart not a single joke hits.

THAT BEING SAID: if you’ll notice up there at the top I still gave Hail Caesar! a positive rating, and I stand by that. Hail Caesar is a mess, and much of the film passes by without much of a laugh, but thank god for two people: George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich.

Clooney, for his part, is absolutely wonderful in the film. Continuing his trend of being amazing in underwhelming Coen Brothers films, Clooney gives a charming and hysterical riff on Charlton Heston that despite being a part of probably the least interesting of the various subplots was made absolutely wonderful by Clooney’s presence.

Ehrenreich, on the other hand, plays a classic singing cowboy who I swear to god needs to be edited out so that his subplot can be a separate short film because I would watch the shit out of that. Every scene Ehrenreich has is absolutely wonderful and funny and full of all the character and timing the rest of the film is lacking. His part alone is worth the price of admission. One scene in particular between him and Ralph Fiennes (in full Grand Budapest silliness) is one of the best bits of shtick the Coens have come up with since… well since “WHERE IS THE SCROTUM!”

Because that’s the thing, after the run they’ve been on this kind of film just isn’t in them anymore. They’ve moved on from these screwballs comedies and it seems like everybody but the Coens have acknowledged that. It’s as if after The Big Lebowski they’ve been struggling to figure out anything new and interesting to say in the genre. They have become so adept at balancing tones that their comedy projected full-force feels flat, resulting in quieter laughs than what levity there is in Inside Llewyn Davis or A Serious Man.

Hail Caesar! is fine. It’s not bad. It’s worth seeing at the Dollar Theater or on Netflix. It’s minor Coens, but still Coens, almost inherently making it more interesting than most out in theaters. I just wish that all the rest could have been trimmed away so we could just have a film about Aldren Ehrenreich as a young, naïve cowboy searching for a kidnapped George Clooney. Oh well, we can’t always get what we want.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.


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