A Coen Brothers Critique: Who is Hail, Caesar For?

I just finished watching Hail, Caesar! the latest film to be written, directed and produced by the Coen Brothers. For some reason, I PAID for this film on blu-ray and when it finished all I could think was ‘I got nothing out of this’. Now I don’t know why I bought the film, I think for some reason I thought it was a Wes Anderson film. Considering that The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of my most favourite films of recent years, I was looking forward to a new Anderson film. But no, just another Coen brothers affair and I’m left dissapointed.

Hail, Caesar! is a day in the life of a big shot producer, Josh Brolin, at a big movie studio in the Golden Age of Cinema, 1950’s Hollywood. Now I’m no schmuck, I’ve studied film and what the Golden Age was like, so I’m not one to miss the references and all that. Also many of the actors in the film I really enjoy, but for the most part, there are so many shoved in that many only have a single scene or two, so there is limited character development or even room for comedy. This has the added overall effect of taking time away from the main plot lines. In the end, I was left feeling like Hail, Caesar! was a fun, kinda quirky historical piece and that was it. I’ll probably never think about it again.

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Don’t get me wrong, for all intents and purposes it’s a very well crafted and executed film but there’s so little substance, and I know the Coen Brothers films are more about characters than plot, but come on give me something to follow, someone to root for. I think that’s the problem with Coen Brother’s films, they are well made and unique movies with lots of star power so they’re really hard to criticize. I like the fact that they’re meant to be for an audience of a certain educational level and you get more out of them the more you watch them. However, this is meant to be a comedy and I barely laughed a single time. I like the actors in the movie, appreciate the characters, understand (most) of the movie industry references and yet I have no reason to watch it again and have no idea who I would recommend this to.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but if someone like me found the film forgettable then who is it for? 1950’s cinema historians, the George Clooney Josh Brolin fan club, anyone still alive today who worked in the Golden Age of Cinema? The Coen Brother’s could take a lesson out of Anderson’s book in that The Grand Budapest Hotel featured a tonne of actors playing oddball characters, yet each was given appropriate screen time for their role, the narrative was charming and engaging and we had likeable characters to root for, oddball characters to laugh at and villainous characters to despise.

Just like Anchorman 2 was criticized for straying into the self-indulgent at times, I feel as though the Coen Brothers are at risk of the same here. Fargo was a fine film, I enjoyed it much more the second time when I understood more about the subverting of cinema conventions in the narrative. The Big Lebowski is a cult classic that I have to watch again, No Country for Old Men was a great film with a strong central plot and Inside Llewyn Davis was a critically lauded film that I’m yet to see. The Coen Brothers make well crafted movies…when they focus on the narrative.

Once again the problem remains, who is Hail, Caesar! for?

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