Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen

Given the Coens are kind of students of Hollywood history, you’d think they might’ve known widescreen filming hadn’t yet been invented in 1951 when this film is set… and yes, that is the sort of anachronism I notice when I don’t notice others, and apparently this film has plenty; the IMDB goofs page does note some of them are probably intentional to highlight how shoddy the film-within-the-film is, but I don’t know what their excuse for premature VistaVision is…

Anyway, I’ve previously established I’m not particularly a Coens fan, and I desperately hoped this would change that, because it’s built on such a good idea, and it starts so well… and, well, it then just never lives up to the promise of that opening. It’s another Coens film about filmmaking, set in a fictional (but meant to be MGM) Hollywood studio, overseen by “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, playing a fictional version of an apparently real person), who has to sort out a variety of issues, like a female star falling pregnant while unmarried, strange casting changes demanded by head office, trashy gossip columnists threatening to expose the studio’s main star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney looking unexpectedly, well, old)… and the kidnapping of said star in the middle of making Hail Caesar, the aforementioned film-within-the film, by a group of Communists. This is such a good set-up that I’m damned if I can understand why the end result wasn’t funnier… it’s like the Coens got cold feet somewhere along the way and were afraid to go for the full screwball treatment the story was so desperately calling for. It has good moments (the musical number is probably the highlight) and individual good bits, but on the whole, just another Coens film to leave me cold and baffled. Damned if I can understand the critical acclaim for this film, which I suppose sums up my relation with Ethan & Joel generally…

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