Caesar Salad

I've always been a fan of the Coen brothers' movies in general, but there's no denying that some of them strike a much stronger chord with me than others. I hadn't heard much about their latest one, Hail, Caesar!, until my friend Kyle excitedly told me to check out the trailer. Once I did, I was as giddy as he was to see it, and we caught an advanced screening the day before it opened.

What about it was so compelling? Firstly, it promised to be a goofy romp from writers/directors I trust. Secondly, it's set in the world of Old Hollywood, which I always enjoy. And third, the cast is an embarrassment of riches, stacked to the gills with actors I love. So, did it live up to the expectations that the trailer established? Well, yes and no.

As Tasha Robinson wrote over at The Verge, it almost feels like the pilot of a television show, rather than a cohesive movie. The central character is Eddie Mannix, a studio exec played by Josh Brolin. Ostensibly, the movie is about his attempts to wrangle the difficulties of the movie-making business, from wedging an aw-shucks cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich, who just about steals the whole movie) into a hyper-articulate drawing room drama to covering up the pregnancy of an unmarried aquatic ballet star (Scarlett Johansson) to throwing a couple of nosy twin columnists (Tilda Swinton) off the trail of studio gossip.

And those are just three of what seems like about twelve subplots. Some of the stars show up for the briefest of cameos before they vanish from the movie (I believe the screentime of Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, and Scarlett Johansson add up to about four minutes combined). It makes for some seriously disjointed storytelling. In fact, the only actor who has a hefty chunk of story is George Clooney, who aptly pulls off the role of a slightly-ditzy, easily-persuaded movie star who believes the argument of whoever the last person to speak to him was. Channing Tatum also pops up just long enough to prove that his stardom is no fluke, tapping his way through an ode to South Pacific that made my eyes shine with joy.

If the cast wasn't as talented as they are, I'd likely be a lot harsher on this movie. It's a messy mix of stories that doesn't have a whole lot of connective tissue tying it together. But it's acted superbly, and underneath the silly goofs of all these tangential subplots, a real love of the movie-making process shows through. It also proves that the Coens can make a compelling movie that never gets more violent than a backslap to someone's face.

Hail, Caesar!: B


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