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Hail, Caesar! - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Hail, Caesar!
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B

If there's anything that makes Hail Caesar! stand out, less among the rest of the Coen Brothers' work than among comedies on average, it's the cinematography. This is a strikingly well shot movie -- which any fan of the Coen Brothers should expect anyway. Anyone unfamiliar with this director-writer team might be surprised by that. The thing is, though, if the cinematography is the only particularly memorable or impressive part of a movie, then maybe something kind of vital is missing.

To be sure, Hail Caesar! is entertaining. There are some moments that are genuinely, gut-bustingly funny. It contains a lot of cameos by recognizable stars, and those are some of the most entertaining moments. Coen Brothers alumn Frances McDormand is in all of one single scene, as a movie editor, but her brief couple of minutes are arguably the funniest in the whole movie. Some others are just amusingly impactful, such as Tilda Swinton playing twin sisters who work for competing gossip columns; Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum as different movie stars with totally unrelated plot points; Ralph Fiennes as a movie director; and Jonah Hill as a guy who gets studio people out of legal binds.

And that's not to mention the biggest star in this movie, George Clooney, as movie star Baird Whitlock, the star of the movie-within-a-movie that bears the same name. He gets kidnapped by communists. Also there's a bit of irony to his status as a supporting player here. But when it comes to the story, trying to explain it any further would be a fool's errand. It gets absurdly convoluted in a very Coen Brothers way. But that's part of the problem, because compared to, say, Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, this movie lacks substance. It's all flash and little else. The characters in those other films, absurdist comedies though they also are, had real depth to them. All the characters here are thinly drawn.

And then there's Josh Brolin, who has by far the biggest part, as the studio exec trying to keep all his movie stars happy. And there are so many, I forgot to name them all -- there's also Alden Ehrenreich as Herbie Doyle, the cowboy/singer who has been miscast in a drama picture. It's hard to zero in on the point of all the shenanigans going on here, other than the Coens finally offering another screwball comedy of their own unique brand, which they really haven't offered since 2008's Burn After Reading. And that movie was a bit better.

As such, Hail, Caesar! might be lost on some, but it'll be good enough for Coen Brothers die hards like myself. Set in the paranoid Hollywood system of the 1950s, it's an almost curiously detailed period piece that also showcases great actors -- another anomaly in the world of movie comedies, and something the Coen Brothers reliably offer. Indeed, besides the cinematography, the performances are the best thing this movie has to offer. It should really be the other way around but I guess you can't have everything.

It's just too bad this movie is ultimately forgettable, something that is unlikely to come up much in conversations about the Coens' career overall. For now, though, you have to hand it to them -- it's still better than most comedies out there. Hail, Caesar! may be a bit less than the sum of its parts, but it sure has a lot of great parts.

Scarlett Johansson and Josh Brolin take one of the many detours in HAIL, CAESAR!

Overall: B
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