Film #186: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

hailcaesardirectors: Joel & Ethan Coen
language: English
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 24 May 2016

I seem to be on a bit of a Coen brothers kick at the moment, as about a week before this movie I also rewatched The Big Lebowski – now, I should note that it’s been four years since my last review of that, but I doubt my opinion has changed an awful lot. I have noticed that I now tend to watch it soon after bowling, which is also about once every two years. My thought processes are apparently predictable.

Anyway, this movie happened to be out the same week (and not as late as usual compared to the west), so I went along to see it when I had a long break one day at work. It’s definitely a comedy and it’s definitely funny, but beyond that I’m not sure what to make of it.

It has a large, starstudded cast, but a lot of them, such as Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, and Channing Tatum, are actually cameos, only in the movie for one or two scenes. Of course, most of them are very good at what they do, and I thought the characters were one of the highlights of the movie. This and the nature of many scenes, such as Channing Tatum’s impromptu dance routine, reminded me of Holy Motors, in that I reckon the Coens came up with the images or scenes before finding a premise to hold it together – in this case, the setting is a movie studio in the 1960s.

The plot, insofar as there is one, is that George Clooney’s character is kidnapped, while wearing a Roman army costume, by communists, who sit around smoking cigars and arguing over how to best overthrow capitalism – meanwhile, Josh Brolin’s character, the studio head and embodiment of capitalism, tries to rescue him with the help of Alden Ehrenreich’s hapless actor. The rest is, to be sure, an enjoyable mess.

The comedy, in typical Coen style, is understated, and I still think unpenetrable. I have had good results from the Coens’ comedy, including The Big Lebowski, but even in that case I only “got” it the second time. At the same time, I don’t think this film is eminently quotable, and I think their comedy has evolved into something very different – perhaps it’s just too shiny and unreal for me now. The style of this movie, certainly, feels like a cartoon at some points, especially with the film studio setting and bold colours.

The movie is intelligent, however, and it is funny. I wouldn’t recommend it unreservedly – I think it appeals to a certain sense of humour, and if you don’t enjoy the Coens’ other recent comedy, you’re probably better off not seeing it. That said, I didn’t follow my own advice, and I enjoyed it more than not, so…

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