‘Meh, Caesar!’


Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures George Clooney is an actor swiped from his studio in this promotional image for the Coen Brothers’ “Hail Caesar”

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures George Clooney is an actor swiped from his studio in this promotional image for the Coen Brothers' "Hail Caesar"
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
George Clooney is an actor swiped from his production in this promotional image for the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”

Jason Wiese | Culture Editor
Feb. 5, 2016, 10:30 a.m.

In Peter Travers’ review of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2008 comedy “Burn After Reading”, Travers assumes that the respect the siblings received from 2007’s Best Picture-winner “No Country for Old Men” must be “driving them nuts.” He then explains a certain pattern he noticed, mentioning how they followed their dramatic debut “Blood Simple” with the surreal Southern-set comedy “Raising Arizona” as well as 1996’s acclaimed comic thriller “Fargo” with the stoner cult comedy “The Big Lebowski” two years later, among others. Basically with every serious drama they released, there was always a goofier take on the subject matter soon after.

Having most recently directed three Academy Award-nominated films in a row (“True Grit”, “A Serious Man”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”), they must be feeling the pressure now more than ever. If that is true, it certainly shows in what must be their zaniest, most off-putting and scatterbrained film yet: “Hail, Caesar!”

To describe the plot of this comedy, from Universal Pictures, would be like explaining a bowl of fruit to a produce employee. Set in the 1950s, it is essentially a day in the life of fictional Capitol Pictures studio manager Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fictionalized take on a real-life Hollywood “fixer” in the 50s of the same name, as he walks around the studio observing the increasingly bizarre events surrounding most of his actors while trying to keep it all under wraps.

The marketing of the film has created the misleading illusion that the film revolves around the production of a historical epic called “Hail, Caesar!” and the kidnapping of its star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney in his fourth collaboration with the Coen Brothers). That might actually be the least interesting of the film’s several seemingly random storylines. They do eventually intertwine, but in a very loosely tied knot.

Scarlett Johansson makes a couple of brief appearances as a troubled actress whose real life does not match her public status. Channing Tatum first performs an overlong dance number before appearing once more in a scene near the end that, without giving anything away, is a frustrating 180 from his first scene. Tilda Swinton makes a dual performance as twin gossip columnists competing for the best story. Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand both have, maybe, three lines. Ralph Fiennes’ only contribution is as a stingy a filmmaker struggling to direct young actor Hodie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich).

Ironically, Ehrenreich, the least recognizable member of the cast, is the most consistent presence in the film other than Brolin and Clooney, but his storyline does win the prize for most random occurrences, not that that was an easy contest. The Coens’ script is practically an arena in which each scene is a new round in a competition to decide which scene is the most incoherent yet.

“Hail, Caesar!” is an easy film to read (I interpreted it as a commentary on what went on behind the scenes in 1950s Hollywood) but an exhausting film to watch and, for that matter, the first film I have seen from the Coen Brothers to disappoint me. Despite amazing visuals, compliments of cinematographer Roger Deakins, and a few good laughs, this is no country for old Coen Brothers fans.