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Hail, Caesar! Review: Coen Brothers Bore with Golden Age Satire

By Julian Roman — February 4th, 2016

Hail, Caesar!, the latest opus from Ethan and Joel Coen, is a bit of a letdown. It works as a clever satire of 50s Hollywood, but falls decidedly flat in insufferably dull stretches. There's no lack of star power or panache in the film. A-listers galore and another fine collaboration with brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins gives Hail, Caesar! an accurate look. It's the uneven humor that dribs and drabs like molasses. Moments of slight hilarity lose focus as scenes play too long. It's almost as if the Coen Brothers were so enamored with their cast they forgot to trim the fat. Lesser filmmakers may be applauded for this effort, but Hail, Caesar! is a bunt from two of the greats.

The story takes place over the course of a day in 1951 Hollywood. Capitol Studios fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has an avalanche of crisis to juggle. Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of their biggest film - Hail, Caesar!, has been kidnapped from the set. A salty starlet (Scarlett Johansson), with a tailored demure reputation, is pregnant out of wedlock. His boss is forcing him to cast a goofy, but kindhearted cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) in a sophisticated romance. Tabloid reporters, both played by Tilda Swinton, dog him at every step. And to top it all off, his wife (Alison Pill), is forcing him to quit smoking. The only respite for Mannix is confession at church, where even the priest is tired of seeing him.

The satirical aspects of Hail, Caesar! are successful. The Coen Brothers poke fun of Hollywood's golden age with ludicrous dance numbers and set pieces. Then pull back the curtains to reveal the flawed characters behind the scenes. The pompous star, slutty actress, closeted homosexual director, communist writers, rabid reporters; it's all there to be mocked. There's also a religious undertone as the film within the film - Hail, Caesar!, deals with the crucifixion of Christ. A supporting scene has Mannix getting the opinion of different religious leaders. It starts off smartly, then fizzles out as the characters banter on incessantly; another example of the fatal flaw in this film.

Alden Ehrenreich steals the show as the lovable cowboy, Hobie Doyle. He has a standout performance in a film loaded with top tier talent. His subplot of a western star forced into sophistication is by far the most entertaining aspect of this film. I credit the Coen Brothers with casting a relative unknown. He gets equal time with the big wigs and does a marvelous job.

Hail, Caesar! will appeal to cinephiles with an interest in Hollywood's heyday. Casual audiences will most likely be bored watching this film. It has a slew of famous actors and cameos, but that doesn't make up for the lack of humor. Much of the comedy is also very dry. It leads to dead spots in the film that drag. I found that many of these scenes failed to have any music or score accompaniment. This was highly unusual in a film loaded with musical and dance numbers. It all adds up to an uneven experience and rare miss from the Coen Brothers.

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