Hail, Caesar! is an intelligent film that acts both as a love letter to, and a criticism of, classical Hollywood.
Hail, Caesar! is a comedy and, to get many of the jokes, you're going to need to have at least some sort of base knowledge when it comes to classical Hollywood. Most of the actors we meet in the film are tributes to stars of the age, and a large chunk of the jokes are all about the period and the business. You're still likely to have a decent time even without knowing all of these things, but it certainly helps to go in with some understanding. That's more work than a lot of the general audience will want to do, which is fair, and it makes the film feel more like it's for "film people" than the public.
With its subplot-heavy nature, Hail, Caesar! also sometimes feels like it lacks forward momentum. This storytelling style also doesn't let us see much of many of the advertised stars. Actors like Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, and Alison Pill all get three scenes or fewer - they come across more as glorified cameos than anything else. Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum don't do much better - although the scenes in which we're introduced to their characters are simply phenomenal. Josh Brolin and George Clooney are the characters we get to learn the most about, and both are delights. Brolin offers a surprisingly nuanced performance, while Clooney is just hysterical in one of his least deep, but most enjoyable, roles ever. Alden Ehrenreich, the least well-known of the main cast, is sure to get dozens more offers, as he showcases both depth and comedic timing.
Hail, Caesar! is an intelligent film that acts both as a love letter to, and a criticism of, classical Hollywood. It's the type of film that will play even better on subsequent viewings at home, although it has limited mass appeal to begin with. This is a picture made for "film people" - those who already have the base knowledge to understand exactly what the Coen brothers are going for and don't have to do much, if any, additional research to "get it." Its lack of a major driving-force plot hurts it, while also making much of the supporting cast feel like glorified cameos. But it's pretty funny, it's subtly clever, it's got a great couple of leading performances, and if you get it, you'll likely really enjoy it. Hail, Caesar! will go down as a minor, divisive film in the Coen canon, but it's one that I'm happy we got.
Bottom Line: If you know your film history, or are willing to do the homework, Hail, Caesar! is a very rewarding film. Otherwise, it's a scattershot film that's only mildly funny.
Recommendation: Worth seeing if you're a "film person." Probably not worth it if you're not.
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