BE WARNED: The movie being sold in previews is not the same one unspooling at your local theater in the case of HAIL, CAESAR!
What is being hyped as one of the funniest and most accessible of the Coen Brothers' films (No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo) turns out to be one of their most niche market endeavors. I have a feeling I'm a member of that niche and even though I enjoyed a lot of the film, I grinned but never guffawed and it was hard to get over the fact that the meal I was served was not the one promised.
Judging by the fact that one third of the small audience I was among left before the end tells me that this will leave most folks cold. Not that there aren't a lot of things to like, there are, but this is a much more subtle, cerebral experience then the zany comedy it's pretending to be in the ubiquitous trailer.
Without giving too much away (there isn't really that much to give) the plot revolves around Hollywood in the 50s, the inverse reality of truth, and Channing Tatum as a singing/dancing gay communist. Not necessarily in that order. All sorts of wonderful characters and situations are offered up only to be left unexplained or unresolved. Frances McDormand, for example, shows up as a wacky, chain smoking film editor for little more than she appears in the trailer in what amounts to a glorified sight gag. This can be said for most among the team of movie stars that are seen in the previews. Nearly 50% of the efforts of Tilda Swinton and Johah Hill are bits we've already seen in the advertisements, while Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson (as a pretty-but-rough talking movie mermaid) get just a few moments more. It's a shame because you'd like to get to know these characters and enjoy their predicaments but, frustratingly, it's like having too many new toys to play with and never really getting a chance to appreciate any of them.
Only Josh Brolin gets to take his time while George Clooney is allowed to milk and play it to the cheap seats and they're both great. Clooney looks like he's having a blast. Did I mention Channing Tatum as a gay communist who stars in movie musicals? Grrrrr. Well he's here and is part of one of the film's truly soaring moments in the Gene Kelly sailor send-up called "No Dames".
Now the Coens have always filmed to the beat of their own drummer and that's often considered a random and meandering pace. The same is true here--delicious for some, unsettling for others. You're not gonna get Woody Allen satire or Wes Anderson quick-whimsy but what you do get is a pastel, deliberate love letter to a Hollywood that "never was and always will be," and as such I took a lot of pleasure in watching much of this unfold. However, I still can't recommend it. It pales in comparison to what I think is the Coens' best, True Grit.
Loudinni provides movie reviews sans spoilers in 500 words or less...usually.