Hollywood movies of the 1940s and 50s is the latest left of centre area that the Coen brothers mine for their latest film. Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) have built career staying on the fringes of the American film community. They never have made a film to make money. Most of their films are quirky and odd, yet funny or moving. With that in mind it seems like the surreal world of films of that era like Ben Hur, Sunset Boulevard and Creature from the Black Lagoon would be a perfect backdrop for a Coen brothers’ film. Instead the result is a bit too silly to be taken seriously.
Using many of their favourite films from those two decades the Coens have created something that is in the end rather muddled rather than a clear farce. They have painstakingly recreated famous scenes or sequences from past big films and yet you end up with an empty feeling after having not laughed as much as you could have. Bottom line is that the film proves that there are very few like Mel Brooks who can do broad farce well.
To keep a madcap comedy pushing forward and your audience interested takes a certain touch. Behind many of these farces were some pointed observations about present-day society and its inadequacies. Nothing like that is to be found here making the comedy ring a little hollow. This is rather surprising because earlier Coen brothers films were chock full of social criticism. They have even done it before in regards to the film industry with the World War II farce Barton Fink. Are they trying to speak about whether the film industry is just another money making industry or is truly art? Who knows? Nothing is clear.
Huge movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney – Gravity, Up in the Air) has gone missing from his latest film set, Hail, Caesar! It is left in the hands of harried studio executive, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin – The Goonies, Sicario), to find the missing star and save the big budget film. Mannix has his hands full as he is also trying to find someone to marry a pregnant actress (Scarlett Johansson – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Her), keep two gossip column writers (both played by Tilda Swinton – Trainwreck, The Grand Budapest Hotel) from finding out the truth about things and a high maintenance British director (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) to take on a Western actor/singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich – Blue Jasmine, Stoker) in his society drama.
A lot is going on in the film. There is the main story about the missing movie star and then plenty of subplots that keep cropping up. It all becomes rather crowded at times and maybe that is why the Coen brothers sometimes seem to forget about characters or stories they have started with and never really tie things up. Subplots don’t ever get interwoven rather they are often frustratingly abandoned.