Director / Script / Editing: Joel & Ethan Coen / DP: Roger Deakins / Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Josh Brolin / George Clooney / Alden Ehrenreich / Ralph Fiennes / Scarlet Johansson / Tilda Swinton / Channing Tatum / Frances McDormand / Jonah Hill
Hail Caesar! is a Four Seasons pizza of a film, that could only have come from the Coen’s, but isn’t as moreish as I would’ve liked.
It seems the plot agrees, taking as it does, a series of random bites from the whole, rather than tucking-in. The brothers Coen cast Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix; a fixer at a ‘Dream Factory’ in the Golden Age of Hollywood, circa 1951. Whereas other writers might’ve made his story the main topping, our dynamic duo simply use him as a jumping-off point for other flavours, into which he occasionally dips.
So, George Clooney is a clueless actor abducted by Communists, from his role as a Roman general in a sword and sandal epic… Channing Tatum is a tap-dancing Soviet agent… Scarlett Johansson is a chain-smoking mermaid and… So on. It’s no Big Lebowski, but then few things are.
Still, the recreations of period sets, costumes and the glimpses ‘behind the curtain’ are a delight, as is Roger Deakins’ photography and the Coenesque dialogue bounces along at Coenesque speed, as it should. As a result, the players look as if they’re enjoying themselves too; though on second thought, they look as if they’re just happy to be in a Coen picture.
As a result, there’s just too much. Of everything. Like a stuffed-crust Four Seasons, it tries to have everything and falls over for lack of clarity. Lost as they were in these revels, the Coen’s forgot to keep things tight and lucid. Still not convinced? Consider Michael Gambon’s voice-over and how it just meanders off-stage. Jonah Hill’s criminally undeveloped cameo, or Frances McDormand’s throwaway-editor. Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant, precious director; I could go on.
It’s possible, of course, that the joke is on us, the audience. That, somehow, the Coen’s set-out to concoct an airy meringue of a film, in-thrall to its chosen period and milieu. That they wanted to carpet-bomb the piece with cameos, in an attempt at recreating some of that original glamour, glitz and, oh go on I’ll say it: froth. To create a film that would unashamedly be its own reason for existing. On those terms, they obviously succeeded. On those terms…
This could’ve been one hell of a Superleggera; or a Neopolitan street pizza. Instead, it’s too much to take in one sitting.
Sometimes, less really is more…
Mary Jo was a guest at a costume party. This isn’t even her dirndl.