By Adam Guy
Directed: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes
At the end of the showing of Hail, Caeser! As I was about to get up to leave the cinema, the lady sat in front of me loudly said to her husband “Disappointing.” followed by “Clever though.” Then as I walked towards the exit one of the few other people in the screening came over and asked me what I thought of the film. Before giving me a chance to ignore her she followed up with “It was crap wasn’t it? I thought about walking out.”
When you see a film in an almost empty cinema and you can hear the few people that are there openly sighing multiple times during the screening, it’s generally not a good sign. It almost feels as if the whole of Hail, Caeser! was written as an elaborate in-joke. I’m sure if you’ve spent your entire life working in Hollywood, or have a detailed knowledge of the state of the American film industry in the early fifties, then it’s probably wildly entertaining and devilishly witty. But I haven’t. And I’m fairly certain no one else at the early Monday night showing in a quiet cinema in Newquay, Cornwall had either. The fact that this film even got made is a testament to how much weight the Coen brothers have in Hollywood. The fact that it currently has an 84% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes tells me that either my small sample audience weren’t smart enough to appreciate all the subtle nauseas or that the critics will like anything if they think they’re supposed to.
The film follows Josh Brolin as a studio head at Capitol Pictures as he tries to fix any and all studio related problems including scandals and kidnappings. The general tone is flamboyant and somewhat whimsical, likely mimicking a style that still made up a large proportion of the films at the time.
The vague overarching plot involves George Clooney’s character being drugged and taken by intellectual Communists. But this plot doesn’t feel like a priority, instead the Coen brothers seem to use it more as a device for shoehorning in elaborate set ups. The first time we see Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is on set at the start of a scene where he plays a tap dancing sailor. We then stay with him for the entire scene, which makes up the majority of the screen time Channing gets. This is fairly typical of the way the film is made up. It plays more like a sketch show than a feature film.
I’m sure Hail, Caeser! is well researched. I’m sure there are a lot more subtleties and attention to details than there are in most Hollywood films. I’m sure that technically it’s a good film. But unfortunately it’s also kind of boring.
Watch the trailer here: