The newest offering from the Coen brothers, this time (not unfamiliarly) set in the 1950s focusing on Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), with never a lack of problems to solve. Those problems include several actors, actresses, directors, reporters and more played by George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill. Eddie’s most pressing problem soon becomes the disappearance of studio star, Baird Whitlock (Clooney).
The cast are well picked, each of them flawlessly fitting into the 50s style of the film, Johansson and Tatum looking practically born to be old fashioned movie stars and definitely do not disappoint; none more well chosen than previous Coen colleague Brolin as a perfect leading man with the requisite humour and stature. Then there’s the Coen frequent flyer Clooney, playing another character whose perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed but very amusingly so, who also has a penchant for sitting oddly in chairs while wearing his permanently present Roman costume. Though there’s also characters who despite the appearances of posters and trailers play very little part in the film, primarily Fiennes and Hill, the latter making his way onto the poster although I suspect that had more to do with his great 50s look and having a more well known presence than Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures, Stoker, Blue Jasmine), despite him being a great addition to the film. Tatum is a definite highlight, not just his tap number, but his whole performance is stellar and fits his acting style to a tee; another big highlight is (much too under used) McDormand who has one hell of a scene, that is one of the best in the film.
In general, the basis for the film is solid and there’s little to complain about in regards to the performance or the sets, costumes, writing, direction or choreography, the comical timing is good as usual, although the story does feel a little simple in relation to some of the Coen’s more intricately detailed films. The jokes are not entirely all audience encompassing but for Coen fans they will hit the right note. The problem is the absence of that usual sense of adventure, thrill or mystery that comes with a Coen production, which would customarily bind the film as a whole to make great elements into something that wholly is brilliant. The energy that comes from big musical numbers like those performed by Johansson and Tatum doesn’t carry into the rest of the film and remain very much separate entities, which themselves are not quite flawless with certain moments that are perhaps slightly too drawn out for fairly little reward.
All said, the film has some fantastic moments and at times is highly entertaining but that should be a continuous experience throughout the film, that just isn’t there. It’s missing that usual bright spark or undeniable charm that we’ve seen in their films like Barton Fink, Fargo or The Big Lebowski and come to think of it we haven’t really seen that in a while…