Coming like an bourbon-tinged palate cleanser from the Oscar season glut and the Star Wars-led spectacle of the holidays, Hail, Caesar! feels like the true start to the cinematic year after a typically grim January. Playing with old Hollywood tropes and satirizing the former studio system, the film is as much of a delight as it is confounding. What should be tricky for mainstream audiences expecting a star-filled madcap romp to fully embrace will still be met warmly by those ready for something just left of center after the end-of-the-year gloss.
In Caesar!, it feels as if the Coen Brothers are playing with more ambivalence than their famously fatalistic instincts. Things don’t come to a natural conclusion or result from the bad choices of idiots, as the Coens are prone to display, perhaps because there isn’t much happening at all. There isn’t much narrative thrust to make the Coens’ ideas lift off of the ground, even as they’re drawing from their common thematic toolbox of religion, misguided mores, and our impending doom. Luckily, the farce in between is more delicious and uproarious than anything we’ve seen from the duo in ages.