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The Coen brothers’ latest comedy Hail, Caesar! is out now, and ComiConverse’s Elodie Cure has our review.
“We’re only interested in one thing, Bart. Can you tell a story? Can you make us laugh? Can you make us cry? Can you make us want to break out in joyous song? Is that more than one thing?”
That is what John Lipnick asked playwright Barton Fink in the eponymous film Barton Fink, released in 1991 and produced by the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan). This simple quote defines the objective of each and every producer, which is to arouse emotions amongst the audience. After the deeply moving Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers are back this year with the comedy Hail, Caesar! and they seem determined to follow their own advice to earn the audience’s feeling again.
The story centres on the character of Eddie Mannix, a “fixer” who takes care of all the dirty work in the cinema studio, such as paying journalists to cover scandals or hiring people to shoulder responsibilities for certain crimes. The camera thus follows Eddie during another typical day at work, a day that is not exactly a walk in the park: a starlet has to keep the secret of her pregnancy, a director struggles with a young actor, and the movie star of the studio is kidnapped by communist extras.
Hail, Caesar! is a true critic of the capitalist system of Hollywood and, at the same time, a tribute to the cinema of the 1950s. The film is built around a series of particularly tasty pastiches (western, melodrama and musical). The idea of associating tribute and criticism at the same time was rather good, but is proved abortive on screen.
The Coen brothers called on a prestigious and promising cast: Josh Brolin (Sicario, Sin City, Gangster Squad), George Clooney (Gravity, Burn after Reading), Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers, Don Jon), Ralph Fiennes (James Bond, Harry Potter), and Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike).
However, my feeling is that the brothers bet everything on a showy casting to overshadow the banality of the scenario. They try to cover too many themes and ideas but forget the essential: the plot. What could have been a brillant film turns out to be totally deceiving and superficial.
The characters are only touched on, and the audience don’t have time to get familiar with any of them (except for Eddie Mannix), as the film keeps switching from one protagonist to the other.
The cinema of the era is vaguely and hardly represented. Slaps are exchanged between actors and producers. An old lady has her scarf sucked up in the editing room, but it doesn’t go any further. Some scenes, notably the ones related to the story of Jesus, are beyond understanding and their purposes remain hazy. The singing and dancing sequences come out of nowhere, and it feels like they are only there to show the skills of Channing Tatum covered up with excessive make-up.
What really saves the whole film is the Coens’ touch. Alongside memorable shots, the quirky humour they are known for is well and truly back. The scene between the director Laurence Laurentz and the young western actor that was used to promote the film remains one of the most hilarious scenes.
All in all, Hail, Caesar! didn’t seduce me as much as I had expected it to. Despite the obvious endeavours of the Coen brothers to make it work, the film is rather underwhelming. The scenario was not in the least surprising, and the choice of actors felt like product placement. We’ve known the Coen brothers to have more inspiration than this.
Elodie Cure is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter @Elodie_Cure.
The new film from the Coen Brothers is far from being their best film. The plot has totally been left behind and the film soon turns out to be a succession of pointless sequences.