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Monday, April 15, 2024

The Coen brothers’ newest feature “Hail, Caesar!” opened in theaters last weekend, and if box office numbers are any indication, audiences gave it a big “Hail, no!” With the lowest turnout ever of the siblings’ career, the comedy only raked in about $11.4 million in spite of its recent critical acclaim. Perhaps it’s because many of the advertisements didn’t map out a clear plot. Spoiler: There is no clear plot.

Although it isn’t a biopic, “Hail, Caesar!” emulates real-life Eddie Mannix, a studio executive who worked to cover up scandals in the golden age of Hollywood. Played by Josh Brolin in the film, the character must keep the kidnapping of major movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) and the unplanned pregnancy of actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) out of the press. Meddling twin journalists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both Tilda Swinton) fail to make this an easy task. There are also dancing sailors, a hopeless country star hired to act in a period drama and a whole lot of communism.

While all this may sound amusing and ambitious, the reality of it falls flat and jumbles together to make for a confusing experience. The Coens typically strive for nonconformity in their filmmaking, but this time they threw that aside in favor of a different goal: senselessness. The story lines differ and stray too much, only to come to a sloppy resolve. Most of the characters seem completely calm about their situations, especially Whitlock, who is almost eager to remain a hostage. As well as having no sense of conflict, there’s also no sense of humor, save a few bits reminiscent of Abbott and Costello. Even as far as absurdist humor goes, the tone of the movie just isn’t quite there.

Perhaps most frustrating is the unmet expectation that some grand social commentary is going to be made. The entire film is very meta, given it’s a movie about making movies with an anti-Hollywood agenda. The fictional studio it portrays is even called Capitol Pictures, while the little guys fighting against it are openly communist. It’s straightforward, but it doesn’t go deep enough. The Cold War setting marked the perfect historical point to expose the nastier parts of Hollywood, but it was instead used for a few laughs before it was just shrugged off. What’s a satire without a purpose?

Simply looking at it as a period piece, “Hail, Caesar!” is a fun watch. The old-time Hollywood aesthetic is done well, right down to the accents and costumes. The directing and cinematography are on par with the rest of the Coen brothers’ films, and it’s refreshing to see the two tackle a more lighthearted endeavor. However, while fans of the duo may be able to overlook the narrative flaws, general audiences won’t.

If anything, support the film’s vague intentions and don’t contribute to the film industry — just wait until it’s on Netflix.

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