Friday, February 17, 2017

Movie with Abe: Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
Released February 6, 2016

The Coen Brothers are master storytellers. They have been making films for over thirty years, winning multiple Oscars and establishing a certain style that often features strong accents, black comedy, and some truly irreverent characters. Their most notable works include “Fargo,” “A Serious Man,” and “No Country for Old Men,” and while most of their films are major hits, there are also the occasional misfires that try and just miss the mark. An excellent example of this is their latest film, “Hail, Caesar!” which contends for one sole Oscar, for Best Art Direction, and represents the general idea of what Coen Brothers films often are but falters extraordinarily in its execution.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood fixer in the 1950s, who, in typical movie comedy fashion, goes to confess to his priest on a far-too-regular basis, seeking absolution for the many sins he knows that he’s going to commit in the name of his work. Eddie’s job isn’t particularly easy, and it’s complicated considerably by the kidnapping of his biggest movie star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), by a group of Communists that call themselves The Future. Other minor obstacles Eddie must overcome over the course of the film are getting twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton) to sit on stories, a Western actor (Alden Ehrenreich) to star in a period piece, and dealing with an unmarried actress (Scarlett Johansson) who has become pregnant and whose career might be ended should her indiscretion come to light.

Like past Coen Brothers films, this production starts out from a point of disarray and chaos, with Eddie doing his best to keep it all under control. There are also elements in the duo’s films that also feel like they’ve come from out of nowhere and don’t end up serving some greater purpose, and this one is replete with them. It is reminiscent of a far better if still flawed film also starring Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice,” but that film has a hidden darkness to it that makes it more tolerable. There’s a sense that there’s no real destination here, and that the bizarre and unsatisfying film itself is the journey.

There are so many big names here that it’s hard to believe this is such a mess. This isn’t Brolin’s best work, nor is it Clooney’s. Swinton, Johansson, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, and especially Channing Tatum have fun in small roles that don’t constitute more than a memorable scene or two. The indisputable breakout of the film is Ehrenreich, who commits so fully to his role and surely can cite this performance as a motivating factor for his upcoming stint as Han Solo in the next “Star Wars” film. This movie’s colors do pop and its art direction (and costume design) deserves praise, but beyond that, there’s not much of value here.


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