HAIL CAESAR! directed by Joel & Ethan Coen (USA,2016)
Friends, Romans,countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Hail Caesar!, not to praise it.
We all love the Coen Brothers, and not without cause, yet I am sad to report that this is one mess of a movie.
It’s as if the siblings decided to do a cut and paste job based on ideas left over from earlier films, then phoned round all their favorite actors to see who was available for a two hour love in.
There are some clever and amusing scenes but none of them lead anywhere because there is no coherent storyline to tie them together.
Along with the equally dire Burn After Reading from 2008, it is plain that what we have here is an ensemble cast that had more fun making a movie than the audience have watching it.
Josh Broin as a square-jawed studio producer (‘fixer’) looks the part unlike George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson who both fail to convince as comics. It’s left to Brits Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton to show how to get laughs.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the narrator’s voice is Michael Gambon, who so memoraby starred in the Dennis Potter’s groundbreaking The Singing Detective. That BBC drama from 1986 (not the lousy American remake) also spoofed the noirish hardboiled mood of the era and referenced a number of diverse genres.
The key difference is that Potter was using stylistic variety to show the complexity of the lead character. In contrast, the Coens lazily chuck everything into the pot as though merely to prove how clever they can be.
The trailers show the movie in a positive light because it is a series of short sketches very loosely tagged together. The result is a quirky yet superficial pastiche that lacks soul and contains more style than substance.