Hail, Caesar! is not a Woody Allen movie, but anyone who has soured on the once-dependable director will be reminded of that classic line from his 1980 film, Stardust Memories. A super-intelligent being responds to our neurotic protagonist’s fear that making films—or doing anything for that matter—is meaningless. “We enjoy your films. Particularly the early, funny ones.”
The same can be said of the Coen Brothers. I enjoyed their early films too. Not just the funny ones (their screwball masterpiece Raising Arizona), but the stylish noir ones (Blood Simple), the classy period ones (Miller’s Crossing), and the brutally black comedic ones (Fargo). But that was a long time ago.
Since then they’ve fobbed us off with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers, and Intolerable Cruelty—intolerable all—and now they’re back with Hail, Caesar!, a novelty homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age and the studio system that begat it. The Coens’ clever writing style, once eloquent and facile, is nowhere to be seen (an interminable scene in which a stuffy director coaches his makeshift leading man in the fine art of elocution being a notable example). Charm is completely lacking. And once again we feel held at arm’s length, no longer party to the insider trading of wit or brilliant cinematic instinct. The film is finely cast and production-designed to death as you would expect, crafted to play like an ode to old-school moviemaking. But Hail, Caesar! isn’t nostalgic, it’s plastic. The only warmth one feels is the heartbreaking memory of ‘Arizona’s salad days, as they say, when round was funny.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth