Reviving Hail, Caesar!
I haven’t the slightest clue whether or not the Coen brothers subscribe to Shakespeare’s idea that, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” But even if they don’t, it appears that with each successive film they manage to prove the truth behind that statement and its value to the art of storytelling.
While their films have quite accurately been described as being perplexing, quirky, and bizarre, there always seems to be a kernel of wisdom at the center of them that makes the experience not just worthwhile, but fulfilling. Raising Arizona, for example, is about as zany a spectacle as anyone will ever see; it’s more or less a live-action cartoon. Yet the moral of the story isn’t goofy at all; in fact, it’s about the only serious thing in the entire movie. Sometimes life’s pains must be endured, and stealing from others won’t alleviate them, but instead make them even harder to bear. The best thing you can do is take a breath, “sleep on it,” and see what you can do to improve your lot in life (I don’t want to go spoiling the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it, so I apologize for the lame synopsis).
Fargo also has a lovely little message. Life isn’t about obtaining extravagant things, or indulging our selfish passions, but dedicating ourselves to that which betters us, mainly to family life and friendship with our neighbors.
Come to think of it, the Coens’ movies aren’t the only peculiar things about them. They themselves are a bit of an oddity in the filmmaking world seeing as how they are some of the only storytellers who offer morals in their movies and don’t rely on witty writing or clever camerawork (though those things are certainly present in their films) to supplant the meaning of their films.
For example, The Hateful Eight is an absolute blast from start to finish. But what sticks? What’s the message? Do whatever it takes to survive?
How about Mad Max: Fury Road? While I’m convinced that it is probably the most spectacular movie to have come out in the last few years, there’s not much in the way of morals. Strive for justice, even in a world gone mad? Sure, that’s a decent lesson, and decent folks will get behind it, but a person would have to get a perfect 10 in mental gymnastics in order to make and prove the claim that Mad Max is somehow a transcendent film that illuminates and examines the human condition. It’s just an action movie. A fantastic one to be sure, but just an action movie all the same.
This is also a problem that pervades movies that try to be thoughtful, but end up being too clever for their own good. The Revenant was one of the most popular movies to come out in 2016, but the “message” it tried to get across was ultimately contradicted at the last second. Without getting too much into it (spoilers Will Robinson, spoilers!), the main character, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), just as he is about to kill John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the man who murdered his son, instead opts for mercy, saying “Vengeance is in God’s hands.” That’s a very thoughtful moral. Too bad Glass literally just sends Fitz down the river to a very, very angry Pawnee chief who scalps him anyway. I remember sitting in the theater watching that happen, and all of a sudden there was this screeching phhisshheiweep that rang throughout the theater. It took me a second to figure out what it was, but sure enough, I realized it was the moral flying right out of the movie.
But one can always count on the Coens to deliver a meaningful movie. That isn’t to say their movies are straightforward by any means; it usually takes some time and perhaps a second viewing to fully extract the meaning behind any of their movies, but by the time you’ve finished cooking your noodle over them, it’s a solid guarantee you will walk away with a decent lesson that could’ve only been told in a movie theater. That, however, appears to have changed with the release of Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! has been the target of some rather blistering criticism, and to those who are familiar with their body of work, it doesn’t make much sense as to why that is. No Country for Old Men and True Grit were just as peculiar, yet both made their money back and then some (No Country earned $74 million while True Grit made an impressive $171 million). Moreover, people praised the movies for being thought provoking, exciting and, above all, for bringing that unique blend of oddity and charm that only the Coen brothers can provide.
But Hail, Caesar! hasn’t gotten a fraction of the love that these previous films got. Sure, it managed to make a profit, but people are giving it tons of crap, claiming that the movie was “disappointing,” a “glorious mess,” and that it, “lacked conviction.” Perhaps the most piercing comment came from the young lady who, as she and her date were making their way out of the theater, I heard say, “We just wasted two hours of our lives.”
Huh? What gives?
As I said, the movie is no more or less bonkers than any of their other movies, and yet people have clearly been let down. While someone who’s familiar with their work may say, “Well, what about Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers? Neither of those were all that good.” True, but they also weren’t written solely by the Coens. I realize that may not fly for some, but personally, I consider their writing and directing to be at its best when they’re completely in charge of it. As such, we should turn to other reasons that may point to their apparent failure with their latest movie.
On the whole, there’s probably two reasons as to why this movie has performed so poorly. First and most obvious is that the Coens are… let’s just say, unique filmmakers who go to the moon and back when it comes to accurately telling the story they tell. When you watch their movies, you can love ’em or hate ’em, but you can’t deny that every single last detail in every single scene was planned out. They are that thorough. Of course, that also means that their movies can come as a disruption to more laid-back audience members. You watch a trailer for The Avengers or The Longest Ride and you can accurately predict what you’ll get when you see it. But there’s no telling what you’ll get when you watch a Coen brothers movie.
Just picture it; some fella watches a trailer for Burn After Reading thinking it’s just going to be a fun, goofy comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney. He decides to see it and suddenly this happens. Or this. Or that. In the long run, things like this tend to turn off, or at least confuse viewers who thought they had a pretty good idea for what they were in for. Of course, folks who have come to enjoy the Coen’s antics are completely unfazed, or more likely, they tend to relish each quirk. But those who don’t have patience for that sort of thing probably won’t be forgiving any of it and won’t render the slightest bit of sympathy.
The second, and much more troublesome reason for the film’s apparent failure, is that even true-blue fans of the Coens took issue with it. The same person who called the movie a “glorious mess” said that he couldn’t believe the film had been made by the Coens, implying that he’s a fan of their other movies. In particular, he and other reviewers claim that the film was a bit of a swindle; they went in thinking it was going to be a goofy madcap movie starring George Clooney, but instead got a morality tale centered on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) whose job it is to manage the lives of the various movie stars who work at the studio. They also took issue with the various cinematic set-pieces (e.g. Channing Tatum’s musical number and Scarlett Johansson’s aquatic extravaganza) in the movie which, while executed wonderfully, didn’t seem to have any point being in the movie (they did, but I’ll get to that later). On the whole, there just wasn’t anything to like because, as these folks claim, the movie had no meaning.
Taking all this into consideration, it seems that Hail, Caesar! was doomed from the outset. Not only did the Coens fail to attract folks who aren’t used to their oddball movies, they also failed to give their fans something to truly appreciate. There was, apparently, no one who could fully enjoy the movie, which undoubtedly accounts for the film’s underwhelming performance at the box-office and its lack of praise (it currently holds a 6.6 out of 10 on IMDb).
Frankly, the criticisms towards this movie have been unjust. Not only is it terrifically lighthearted, which made it refreshing in the sea of blood projected on screen by movies like The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and Deadpool, it also proved to be much more thoughtful than all of them combined. Like any great parable, however, the meaning has to be searched for and excavated before it can be embraced; to do otherwise, which would mean taking the movie at face value, is to run the risk of finding it to be a flippant, nonsensical movie. I assure you, it is not.
A Mensch’s Gotta Do What A Mensch’s Gotta Do
If there is one underlying theme that tends to show up in every single Coen Brothers movie, it’s the idea that life is tough, and the greatest thing anyone can learn is to live as a mensch, which is to say a person with, “integrity and honor”. While there are certainly exceptions to this – Miller’s Crossing, Blood Simple, and The Man Who Wasn’t There all feature pretty despicable characters – there is no shortage of decent personas populating the Coen’s movies. Whether it’s Marge in Fargo, Norville in The Hudsucker Proxy, the Dude in The Big Lebowski, or Ed Bell in No Country for Old Men, the Coens undoubtedly have an appreciation for courage and grace. Moreover, if the job of the storyteller is to be honest about people’s faults while also inspiring them to better themselves, then the Coens have never failed to show both the rewards garnered by living decently and the punishments for living cruelly.
Eddie Mannix, the central character in Hail, Caesar!, carries on the tradition of presenting a character that sets aside his personal desires for the sake of others. At the start of the film, we see Eddie (who is actually based on real-life Hollywood “fixer” E.J. Mannix) has no shortage of crap to deal with at Capitol Pictures: there’s young, beautiful, up-and-coming starlet Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) who moonlights as a centerfold; there’s Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes) who is very peeved with the star of his new movie, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), for being a bit of a dipstick when it comes to reading his lines; there’s DeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a rather bitter diva-ish actress who is cynical about pretty much the whole of life after having gone through two divorces and two out of wedlock pregnancies; there’s Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), a pair of gossip columnists who are about as charming as listening to an orchestra play Beethoven’s 5th using just their nails and chalkboards; and, to top it all off, the biggest star at Capitol, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who is currently working on Capitol’s biggest movie Hail, Caesar!, has gone missing.
As said, no shortage of crap. And to make it even more piercing, it isn’t even Eddie’s crap. He is, actually, a pretty straight shooter in his life away from the studio. He’s faithful and loving to his wife while working with serial adulterers and fornicators; he loves his kids and works to be a part of their life; and at the end of the day, he genuinely wants to help out the folks he works for in spite of their crazy behavior. In fact, some of the best laughs in the movie come when he’s at confession. Here’s this guy who works day in and day out fixing other people’s problems, and yet he tells the priest that the worst thing he’d done all day was lie to his wife about smoking a cigarette. His confessions become so pervasive that even the priest has to tell him, “You’re not that bad.”
So on the whole, Eddie’s a good guy. Yet in spite of his dedication to others, he does at times become exhausted with having to clean up other people’s messes. He’s so exhausted that at several points during the movie he entertains the idea of quitting and moving to Lockheed, where he’s been offered an executive position where he can rake in as much, if not more, money than he’s been earning at Capitol and all without having to devote himself to repairing the lives of others.
That isn’t a bad deal by any stretch, and he’s understandably tempted into considering the deal. He runs it by his wife; she tells him that he should do the right thing. He’s not particularly sure what that means because he isn’t convinced that he is doing the right thing. Is helping fragile people come back together only to inevitably fall apart later really a good thing?
He takes it up with his priest. He tells him that he’s been offered a choice between living an easy life or doing the right thing. The priest, who is a man of few words anyways, simply says, “God wants us to do the right thing.” And that’s enough for Eddie. Hearing it from both his wife and his spiritual guide cinches the deal.
He goes back to work, rejects the Lockheed offer, and fixes everything. Ms. DeLamour stops posing in nudie mags, Lorenz manages to finish his movie, Doyle goes back to starring in movies that are better suited to him (Westerns), DeAnna marries the man whom Eddie introduced her to, Thora and Thessaly both end up with stories, and Baird is recovered and finishes Hail, Caesar! At the end of the day, Eddie finds that while what he does is tough, it is also meaningful, and serves to both help others and give his own life purpose.
That’s it. That’s the moral of the story.
I’m not making fun of the movie for having a simple message. If anything, I’m utterly perplexed as to how audience members can claim that they don’t get the movie. How can the message be missed? Even for those who aren’t religious, the idea of doing the right thing over that which would simply allow us to glide through life should still ring true, right? It’d be easy to chalk up the audience’s misunderstanding, or flat out lack of understanding, to cynicism, which is to say that some folks are too brittle to appreciate a lighthearted story. That, however, is far too flimsy an explanation especially seeing as how audiences tend to see movies that provide escapes from the harshness of life (Spotlight and The Revenant were the Oscar heavyweights last year; audiences, however, preferred Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World).
The only other possible explanation that comes to mind is that the movie does have two seemingly useless elements; the first is the collection of scenes that celebrate the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second is the situation which revolves around Whitlock’s kidnapping. To read some of the nastier detractors complain about this movie, one would assume that if these two things were absent, then Hail, Caesar! would go from being stupid to decent. If anything, these two elements are what make the movie go from decent to great.
What You See Isn’t What You Get
How many of us have been brokenhearted to hear about a scandal that completely, sometimes even irreparably, tarnished the image of a celebrity that we thought was probably a decent person? You’ve seen their movies and maybe watched an interview or two with them, and you always thought, “You know, it’d be kind of cool to sit down and chat with them.” And then wham! You see them on the front cover of People or US Weekly or some other scandal rag revealing their inner demons. Whether it was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug addiction, Miley Cyrus’ oversexed tomfoolery, or Jeffery Jones’ repulsive attraction to teenage boys, it seems that more often than not, the nice, baby-face, sometimes flat-out charming personas that people portray on screen are the complete antithesis of who they are in real life.
And yet, there was a time when actors did their best to inspire people to do the best they could and therefore tried to ensure that there was a measure of integrity both in the roles they played and in their private lives. Sidney Poitier reportedly claimed that once he became a solid actor, he swore off villainous roles. Similarly, James Stewart said that he could never see himself, “playing a heavy,” because he’d so thoroughly cultivated a wholesome image that people looked up to. This attempt to live as honestly as one can, even within the realm of fiction, is another facet of Hail, Caesar!
The four movie stars that Eddie manages – DeAnna, Hobie, Baird, and the heretofore unmentioned Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) – all have their own screen personas and, ironically, they tend to be the complete opposite of that persona. DeAnna is made out to be this luxurious princess, all smiles all the time. That is of course until she starts cussing out the crew for forcing her to wear such uncomfortable costumes. In a gesture of extreme petulance, she even belts the conductor of the orchestra with her tiara on account of how annoyed she is. There is also the case of her two children, both of whom were born out of wedlock, and who have no father figure to grow up with. All in all, she’s about as far from a princess as you can possibly get.
Baird is the Cary Grant of Capitol Pictures. He’s the strong, towering figure that exudes calm fortitude in the face of any obstacle. You can always count on him. Or, more accurately, you can always count on his typecast characters. In truth, the man is a complete and utter pushover. For the first half of the movie, he gets indoctrinated by a pack of Communists (his kidnappers), and like the airhead he is, totally buys what they’re peddling. But the second he starts spouting their nonsense in front of Eddie, he gets slapped upside the head and told to drop the act and get back to work, which he does. Again, far from being a thoughtful, courageous gent, he’s just a twerp who does what other people tell him.
Undoubtedly the worst is Burt. This fellow is a cross between James Stewart and Frank Astaire; the all-American, tap-dancin’, “hey buddy, how ya doin'” guy. The entire time we see him on set, he exudes goodness of every kind. He’s clearly a skilled dancer and singer who’s devoted to his craft. He’s friendly, courteous (he’s one of only two characters to refer to Eddie as “Mr. Mannix”) and no one has a bad thing to say about him. If only they knew that he is in league with the same Communists who kidnapped Baird. Actually, one could make the case that he was the one who arranged the kidnapping in the first place since he was the only one of the group who knew Baird on a personal basis. At the end of the day, he gets away with his crime by defecting to the Soviet Union and taking a one-way submarine ride to Moscow.
On the whole, Capitol clearly has its share of oddballs (and that’s not even counting the pretentious director Lorenz and the kooky studio editor C.C. Calhoun). But ultimately, there is another decent guy at Capitol, one with the same appreciation for honesty that Eddie has; Hobie.
Hobie is the goofy guy who everyone thinks is just some dumb hick who only knows how to ride horses, shoot prop pistols, and sing ballads. In the opinion of the studio execs, the guy is such a nincompoop, that they feel obligated to beef up his image and make him appear more intellectual by casting him in the posh soap-drama Merrily We Dance. And guess what? He stinks. The guy can’t even say the simplest line with ease.
As such, Eddie lets him go back to playing the kind of roles that reflect who he really is; a humble, kind-hearted, polite guy (he’s the second of the two characters to refer to Eddie as “Mr. Mannix” and the only one who actually means it with a measure of respect). In spite of the derision, however, Hobie is ultimately the one who uncovers the Communist plot and rescues Baird. Him, of all people. Not DeAnna, definitely not Burt, not even the shrewd, usually vigilant Eddie Mannix. No, at the end of the day, it was the guy who no one thought anything of who ended up keeping Capitol from sinking. And why might that be? It’s because in spite of his inability to say, “Would that it were so simple,” he at least knows when it’s necessary to right wrongs, and that’s something that none of the other stars know how to do. That’s why the only actor in the movie who can claim to not need Eddie’s help is Hobie.
This brings to mind a verse from 1 Samuel 16:7; “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In other words, don’t judge an actor by the roles he plays. That is, in essence, the complimentary message of the movie. Eddie wants to do what’s right, and in keeping with that ideal, he wants to make movies that showcase the best in people. But he can’t do that if he doesn’t inspire goodness in the actors themselves. Sure, their characters might be good, but of what worth is it in the end if they themselves aren’t good, or to put it another way, if they themselves don’t learn the lesson the movie is teaching. As such, he finds it necessary to inspire his actors to do the best they can, both on and off the screen. As such, he does all he can to make sure they can find a measure of goodness in life; he finds DeAnna a husband willing to claim her kids as his own, he allows Hobie to go back to his beloved Westerns, and even after smacking some sense into Baird, tells him to, “be a star.”
Now, it’d be impossible to ask anyone to be a good person all the time. We are all, as Immanuel Kant once said, fashioned from the crooked timber of humanity, and therefore will always be susceptible to the foibles that come with being human. And in the realm of movies, someone will always have to play the bad guy if there are to be any stakes (even kids know that in order to play cops and robbers someone has to be the robber). But that doesn’t mean people can’t work towards being a decent person both in and out of their private lives. Of course, such a decision is up to each person to decide for themselves, but as evidenced by the movie, the only folks who tend to really get things done and live upright lives are those who have a respect – even if it’s begrudging – for moral consistency.
Marx Me Down As Confused
So the central narrative of Hail, Caesar! has a point, as do the cinematic interludes focusing on Capitol’s stars. But what about the Communist cell; what exactly do they have to do with anything? This, admittedly, is probably the trickiest part of the movie to comprehend seeing as how one could say that the Communists (who call themselves “The Future”, presumably after the journalist Lincoln Steffens’ ridiculous claim that, after he’d visited the Soviet Union, he’d, “seen the future and it worked.”) were there just because the movie needed villainous characters. They served no purpose other than to give Eddie an obstacle on the way to saving Baird and finishing Hail, Caesar! Upon reflection, though, The Future is also an integral part of the story, and they’re not just run-of-the-mill bad guys.
First off, their presence in the movie helped to flush out the era. At the time, there were a number of Communist sympathizers, not to mention pure blooded Communists, in Hollywood. Directors Abraham Polonsky and Edward Dmytryk, as well as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo all had ties to Communist sects that existed in Hollywood from the ’30s to the ’60s. In this sense, they serve to add some historical flavor to the movie.
But more importantly, The Future truly act out their role as the movie’s antagonists, and not just because they are kidnappers, but because they are what cause the moral friction in the movie through their indoctrination of Baird.
Within moments of being introduced to the members of The Future, Baird (as well as the audience) can tell that these guys are a really peculiar bunch. They speak only in far-fetched, bizarre philosophical themes, quoting Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vlad Lenin whenever they get the chance. Also, there’s no sense of camaraderie about them; they’re always shouting at one another and never refer to one another by name (even on IMDb, the actors are simply listed as Communist #1, Communist #2, etc.). The only one of the group who’s referred to by name is Professor Marcuse (John Bluthal), a distinguished member of the Frankfurt School (and, by the way, another historical figure).
It’s important to remember that Baird is about as smart as a 2×4, so he’s basically just soaking in all of their garbage. He never questions what they’re saying, and even at times tries to show them that he’s “understood” their lessons. Eventually Burt returns to their hideout with Baird’s ransom (the irony of selling Baird’s well-being for $10,000 is completely lost on them) and they bow out, simply leaving him to be rescued by Hobie.
When he returns to Capitol, the first thing he says to Eddie, the man who helped amass the sum necessary to free him, is that there’s no worth in what they do, implying that Baird was just as well off staying kidnapped than being rescued. Since he’s come to believe that actors, directors and writers are just kidding themselves into thinking that they are making something of value, there’s no point in making movies because they are nothing more than”bread and circuses” for the people. To top it all off, he claims that movies have no “spiritual dimension.” It’s in that moment that Baird receives a reality check courtesy the back of Eddie’s hand, who then reminds him that without Capitol he wouldn’t have a job and thus no means to provide for himself. Baird is wise enough to see the sense in getting back to work, and does so post-haste.
Again, far from being just a mindless gang of hoods who wanted to make an easy 10-grand, The Future wanted to destroy the idea that movies, one of the most beloved forms of storytelling, have value. Their motives boiled down to thinking that filmmakers are swindlers who con the mindless masses into gobbling up their useless, forgetful product. This is absolutely false, and it’s obvious to anyone who has seen a TV commercial or looked at a billboard.
The popular culture is filled to the brim with cinematic images. I bet you anything that if you ask 100 people what movie “the Force” is from, 99 of them will immediately say Star Wars and 1 will say, “Star Trek. Oh, no wait, my mistake. Star Wars.” If you go into any kids clothing store, you will see shirts adorned with the newest Disney hero/princess (shoot, at the local Wal-Mart, Elsa is still the queen of the kids apparel).
But the effect of the popular culture goes far beyond merchandising. Both good and bad movements have started on account of movies precisely because they are able to reach millions of people. Steven Spielberg received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that could be bestowed upon a civilian in the United States, for Saving Private Ryan, which honored the valiance of our nation’s soldiers so that a new generation could learn to appreciate their sacrifices. While it’s a TV program, HBO’s The Wire is now required viewing in some political science courses. And most ironic of all, the Communist movement was in large part spurred on by propaganda films from Soviet directors like Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.
In a way, The Future is perhaps one of the most insidious group of villains to be portrayed in recent memory precisely because the things they attack are what make us human. Sure, they aren’t a band of savages like the War Boys in Mad Max who only want to butcher people, but they didn’t have to be. Ironically (again), although they are materialists, they decided to go after ideas that they disagreed with and thought would only serve to harm people. As such, they didn’t just kidnap Baird for the money; they kidnapped him in the hopes of turning him into a nihilistic automaton that would dismantle the studio he worked for by leaving it.
But in the end, their ideas blow away in a matter of seconds when they encounter reality as they are dealt a one-two punch. First, Baird goes back to work and finishes the Biblical epic Hail, Caesar! at Capitol Pictures. And second, the money they were going to use to further their reach and build up their cell ends up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean after a mishap involving a Soviet submarine, a rowboat, Burt, and a puppy (like I said, this is a Coen brothers movie). $10,000 gone like that. So much for The Future.
“A truth we could see if we had but…”
In his Great Movies essay for The Big Lebowski, Roger Ebert said, “‘The Big Lebowski’ is about an attitude, not a story.” I agree wholeheartedly, but that observation should be applied to all their movies. When all is said and done, their movies have the simplest set ups imaginable. In fact, I think that most of them could be summed up in about one sentence. Fargo is about a police officer tracking down some killer thieves. A Serious Man is a contemporary retelling of the Book of Job. Inside Llewyn Davis is about a folk singer trying to make it big. Like the most dazzling of storytellers, the Coens realize that it’s not about the set-up for the story, which amounts to little more than cosmetics, but rather how the characters deal with the set-up.
What is the greatest criticism leveled at filmmakers nowadays? It’s that they only care about frying the senses rather than invigorating the imagination. Comedies nowadays only care about the set-ups and have zilch to show in terms of character development. It’s all about how much they can gross out the audience and how many times the characters can drop the f-bomb in a minute. Horror films are all about sex and blood and screaming (typically in that order) and how many times the characters can drop the f-bomb in a minute. And action movies are about how many square inches of the screen can be filled up with explosions and how many times the characters can drop the f-bomb in a minute. Yet it’s these mindless, superficial movies that try fruitlessly to captivate the audience and make them think like they’re actually saying something important.
Don Jon was called “stellar” by Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, “genuine” by Peter Debruge at Variety, and an “examination of modern love” by Annlee Ellingson at Paste Magazine. It marketed itself as an edgy romantic comedy/drama about a man addicted to porn (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has to find a way to navigate the world of real relationships. Sounds intriguing at first, but then you see it and realize it’s just a mindless collection of sex scenes interspersed with clips from actual porno videos (how this movie wasn’t rated NC-17 is beyond me), really bad Jersey accents, and surprisingly unfunny dialogue that is topped off by the exceedingly creepy fact that Levitt’s character ends up dating (or at least sleeping with) a woman who’s about 20 years his senior.
The Purge sounded like a really neat movie. What would it be like if one day out of the year all crime was legal for about 12 hours? The sky is the limit with this sort of story… oh no, wait. It’s just about people getting shot, stabbed, beaten, immolated, curb-stomped, and tortured both physically and psychologically. So much for potential.
And what about those delightful Transformers movies. Each new entry adds to the already convoluted mess of the Transformers-mythos with talk about the All-Spark, the Fallen, the Ark, and so on and so on to cover up the fact that the movie has nothing to say about anything. The movies could sincerely be forgiven if they were 90 minute action extravaganzas which were only about robots beating each other up. For goodness’ sake, Guillermo del Toro did that with Pacific Rim and that movie was a blast and a half. But no, the filmmakers behind the Transformers movies have to stretch the movie out to ungodly lengths (the most recent film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, was 165 minutes long) to pretend like their movie actually has meaning. One is tempted to say that at the end of the day, these movies don’t matter because everyone makes fun of them anyways. That is until one looks at the box office take for the entire series: $1.3 billion domestically and $3.7 billion worldwide. Clearly there’s a handful of folks who like them, and given how popular these movies have been, there will undoubtedly be another movie.
And yet Hail, Caesar!, the humble little comedy which is genuinely thoughtful, is lambasted because… actually, I have no idea why it’s been so lambasted. It’s well written, the comedy is pristine, the acting is hysterical and charmingly peculiar, and above all, the filmmakers are unashamed to show that there’s a message at the core of the movie. Even still, there are some people who think it’s a “waste” of two hours.
Now, if you liked all the previously mentioned films, that’s fine. If at the end of this reading you still hate Hail, Caesar!, that’s fine. But to my mind, people aren’t just disliking this movie; they’re not even giving it a chance. The insights in this piece aren’t locked away in some vault, nor are they fanciful interpretations. It’s all right there on the screen for everyone to see. One need only look for it.
At the end of the movie, Baird delivers a speech at the feet of the crucified body of Christ, and as he looks at His shattered remains, he realizes that He represented, “a truth we could see if we had but…” He forgets the last word in the speech. He looks at the director who angrily shouts, “Faith!”
Seeing all the criticism the movie has received and how mangled it’s been, I can’t help but want to shout the same thing.
What do you think? Leave a comment.