Somehow I always end up enjoying the trailers for Cohen Brothers films more than the actual films themselves. Whoever does those trailers seems to find ways to make the journey seem like it’s going to be more fun than it actually ends up in the finished product.
I certainly enjoyed HAIL, CAESAR! more than some of their other films, but it wasn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination.
The main plotline follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a movie studio executive dealing with a few different sources of stress, all the while trying to stop smoking to appease his wife. He’s also trying to decide whether to switch industries to take his career in a different direction with an attractive job offer on the table while putting out a variety of crises involving some of the biggest movie stars employed by the studio for whom he also works. The time the Cohens spend in these areas ends up being poorly invested.
The main crises Mannix has to solve is the abduction of the studio’s leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who goes missing while filming the final few scenes of an epic. This could be an interesting storyline, but Mannix never really seems to acknowledge the serious nature of the situation. If the idea was to present him as a character who doesn’t break a sweat dealing with this sort of situation, the Coens should have better presented that concept by involving someone else who clearly grasps the gravity of the situation and use it to juxtapose the two reactions. And further still, once Mannix sets things in motion to resolve the situation, he doesn’t follow up to see if his attempts are fruitful. Instead, he just moves on to the DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) crisis, and the Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) crisis.
The fact that the film tries to interweave all three of those crises, along with another storyline involving the song-and-dance stylings of Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) was a tough task for the 100-minute run-time. I wouldn’t say they failed, because each thread provided laughs and entertainment and opportunities to feature other interesting characters like problem solver Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill) and perfectionist director Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes).
More time spent in any of the three side stories could have provided significantly more entertainment. I would watch an entire movie featuring the very talent Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle. The way Channing Tatum’s character is used clearly speaks to a wasted opportunity, especially after such an entertaining scene where we first meet his character. And as for Scarlett Johansson, when haven’t we wanted more of her characters in a film? Certainly she could have been more involved, especially if that would mean more screen-time for Jonah Hill. But because they can’t spend much time with any of them, none of them get fully baked. It felt like there were scenes left out and concepts were under-developed.
Jonah Hill’s character was perhaps one of the more interesting characters, and unless I’m forgetting something, he was only in one scene. He didn’t even get up from his desk. Through dialogue, we find out what sort of person he is, but they could have easily spent a few minutes showing us some flashbacks with his character, or even putting on display some of the action that happens off screen that we find out about after the fact.
Give me another half hour of content, edging just beyond the two-hour mark, and I believe the film would’ve been considerably better. Perhaps even put the footage in the hands of someone like Guy Ritchie or Steven Soderbergh and let them edit it up and add a different musical score, and perhaps it would be as enjoyable to watch as the previews.
Though it gets better grades from me than Burn After Reading and was an enjoyable time, HAIL, CAESAR! misses the mark for me… and doesn’t deserve the exclamation point.
My rating: 75 out of 100