Last night I gave Hail Caesar! another shot. Having expressed my initial disappointment 2 and 1/3 years ago and moved past that like any sane person, I thought I might somehow see this period Hollywood “comedy” (i.e., one that’s actually funny in only one or two scenes) in a more approving light.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. As well-made, well-acted and handsomely designed as it obviously is, I still felt irked and underwhelmed. My re-viewing wasn’t boring. It’s still diverting in several portions (Channing Tatum‘s dance number, Aldren Ehrenreich‘s “would that it twuhhh” scene with Ralph Fiennes) but it feels oddly thin and scattershot.
Has anyone watched it again and felt differently?
I’m still hugely peeved at the Coen’s aspect-ratio wrongo. Two or three clips are screened within the film, and they’re all presented in CinemaScope-like widescreen, which of course didn’t appear until 1953 with The Robe and didn’t really kick in on a mainstream basis until ’54. Hail Caesar is happening in ’50 or ’51, given the obvious allusion to Quo Vadis. The fact is that all movies were shot and projected at 1.37 back then so we’re talking an aspect-ratio boner of stunning proportions. Unforgivable.
From my 2.3.16 review: The smarty-pants dialogue has verve and flair. The attitudes, haircuts, costumes and production design are all aces. Pic has many elements, in fact, that are sharp and zippy and loads of fun, but something is missing. Yes, if you ease up on your Coen Bros. expectations Hail, Caesar! is agreeable enough. It’s not slop and far from a trainwreck, but at best it’s a 6.5 or 7. Amusing here and there but never consistently funny in a follow-through, momentum-building sort of way.
Remember the inspired “Wheezy Joe” bit in Intolerable Cruelty (i.e., the gun mistaken for an inhaler)? There’s nothing in Caesar that comes close to that. If you ask me Inside Llewyn Davis — by any yardstick a downish, somber-attitude film — is funnier in its own studied way. John Goodman‘s back-seat performance as a junkie musician was a stone classic; ditto that “where’s his scrotum?” scene plus the moment when the amiable G.I. folk singer slurps the cereal milk. There are no bits or performances in Hail, Caesar! that deliver on this level.
Hail, Casear! is about real-life MGM general manager and vp Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) and how he deals with the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a Robert Taylor-like star during the filming of a Quo Vadis-like Biblical epic called Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ.
The genius move, for me, is the Coen’s decision to not only cast lefty-commie screenwriters as the kidnappers but depict them as being in league with the Russians — a vision of subversion straight out of the HUAC playbook and the commie-hating minds of John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille and Adolph Menjou.
Other characters include an aw-shucksy cowboy star in the vein of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers (Alden Ehrenreich), a pair of twin-sister gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton), an Esther Williams-like star (Scarlet Johansson) who’s gotten herself pregnant, a effete director (Ralph Fiennes), etc. Jonah Hill appears in one scene and has maybe three lines — a throwaway. Dolph Lundgren was cast as a Russian submarine commander but either his stuff was never shot or he was cut from the film.