I think the problem that the Coen Brothers have created for themselves, and it is a good problem to have, is that the best of their work is so good, that they have set the bar unbelievably high for themselves. Thus, when a film like Hail, Caesar! comes out which is really very good, and very entertaining, but not quite as transcendentally brilliant as say Barton Fink or Fargo, you can't help but feel the tiniest twinge of disappointment.
I realize this makes me sound like an elitist prick. And that is OK. I think at this point in their career these guys are just making the films that they want to make, and they don't really care about the critical reaction or box office. It makes them happy to make films on their terms, and they certainly don't give a fuck what I think. And that is a great thing!
But this blog is pretty much all about what I think, and I think the Coens have never been particularly strong at comedy. Probably their most well-regarded comedy, The Big Lebowski, has always struck me as being way over-hyped by people who love to take bong rips and do quaaludes. The film is certainly a Coen Brother production, as it is set in the halcyon days of the 1950s and it’s about the movie-making business, subjects that they have always been drawn to.
As far as I can tell, there is no real deep meaning or significance to this film. It is basically just a vessel for fondly paying homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood when the studio system was in full swing and Biblical epics were all the rage. It’s a fun film, to be sure. There is one sequence when Ralph Fiennes tries to coach country bumpkin Western star Alden Ehrenreich to say “Would that it were” in a refined manner that had me rolling. But other than that there’s nothing particularly revelatory in the film. If, like me, you enjoy visiting a stylized version of 1950s Hollywood that pokes fun at the glitz and the glamour and all the machinations that go into making the dream factory run, then you will certainly enjoy this movie.
I think it’s a fun, pleasant distraction. But it fails to reach the level of Barton Fink, which also satirized the movie industry while doing so much more with its story and characters. Sadly, while Hail, Caesar! is entertaining enough, it doesn’t have a whole lot to say.