Hail, Caesar! is a movie that you’ll wish you enjoyed more, a well-done, fun, but forgettable movie. The marketing and trailers did the film no favors either, painting the film with the same colors as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (which I love). This is not, however, a spiritual successor to that movie. What Hail, Caesar! instead gives is a collection of short segments (almost like skits) loosely connected by a story thread, and the headliner George Clooney barely appears at all. None of these by themselves are particularly negatives, but when marketing has conditioned the audience for a different product, they may not care for the actual result.
We do get signature Coen characters, who are always quirky yet entirely plausible people. That is, they may not even stick out that much in our real, crazy world, but under the film’s focus they border on the absurd. Unfortunately, some of these highlights feel more like cameos instead of actual roles. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? had roughly the same size ensemble cast, but integrated them with the story more successfully (in my humble opinion). In Hail, Caesar!, two scenes seemed to be the average number that side characters appear in- Scarlett Johansen and Ralph Fiennes for example are confined to that number of scenes and then disappear completely. As a result, they fail to really leave a mark, which is especially unfortunate with Fiennes’ wonderfully ridiculous performance as Lawrence.
This may seem like a lot of criticism- I actually did like this movie, but I would have loved for it to be better. Perhaps the Coens are a victim of their own success- always being compared to the greater works. At the end of the day, if you enjoy their other films, you should see this one. Great production values, standout (though underused) performances, and a salute to classic Hollywood all make this worth watching- you just might not feel the need to watch again. Unless you like dancing sailors.