Tuesday, 15 March 2016

hail caesar (w&d ethan coen, joel coen) & the big short (d adam mckay, w. mckay, charles randolph)

Hail Caesar

There’s not that much to say about Hail Caesar. A packed out Saturday night Ritzy settles down to watch some escapist fare and gets what it pays for. No matter how much the film theorists might speculate about an subtext of “faith” in years to come (the word Clooney cannot utter), the film’s narrative barely holds together; instead there’s just enough in its bricolage of ideas to muddle by as a plot. Reminding us that film, the artistic medium most lacking a process of creative unity, is no more than a collection of sequences which sometimes makes for a coherent whole, and sometimes doesn’t. And that sometimes this lack of coherence matters, and at others it doesn’t much. In this case, it doesn’t much. There are some lovely sequences which pastiche or homage the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood; some lovely comic moments; some lovely cameos. All strung together like a bunch of mismatching pearls by a narrative that just about gets the film from start to finish. Some of the comic moments, notably the meeting of the religious elders and Fiennes’ lovely cameo as the director of mannered, Cowardian melodramas are worth the ticket price alone. Hail Caesar might be more like a review sketch than a serious drama, but on a dank Saturday night in Brixton, it goes down a treat. 

The Big Short 

So, the demise of the intelligent Hollywood star-fuelled blockbuster has been overrated. All this in a year when Spotlight, which I haven’t seen, won an awards competition which people take note of. The Big Short is a fluent, compelling tale of how the system failed in 2008, which manages to pull it off despite making its protagonists a group of disconnected white guys who never meet and who make it rich by outwitting that said system. It really shouldn’t work as a movie, under any of the usual terms. Sympathetic hero - no. Clear protagonist - no. Unity of action - no. However, whilst Hail Caesar is not really a film about faith; The Big Short is. The faith of the individual in his capacity to hold firm to his beliefs when all the evidence is screaming that he’s wrong. This is the uniting narrative of all the eight lead characters; although none more so than in the case of Christian Bale’s drum-toting investment guru, whose main function in the movie is to do nothing other than wait. Waiting, as we all know, is fundamentally anti-dramatic. There’s no action in waiting. There’s stress and no release valve. Even the drums Bale bashes don’t help much. Yet this is what his character does for the best part of two hours. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Which is largely down to two things: McKays bravura direction, which isn’t afraid of flirting with ridicule and in the process provides a light touch to what might have been a dour tale; and Steve Carrell’s grandstanding performance as the one banker who really seems to care, his shock at the stupidity of his nation constantly etched onto his face. The film makes much play of being based on fact; there is something in the relentlessness of Carrell’s performance, its lack of any sense of redemption or catharsis, which helps to convince us that this is indeed a real character, who will die being pissed off, rather than a script developed concept who has to go on his journey towards a greater sense of enlightenment. The film, with its flouting of so many of the standard rules of script-assembly, is something of a heist in itself.