Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. United Kingdom/USA, 2016. Universal Pictures, Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions, Dentsu, Fuji Television Network. Screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Produced by Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Jess Gonchor. Costume Design by Mary Zophres. Film Editing by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Academy Awards 2016.
It’s 1951 and the post-war boom that has made America the leading industrial country in the world is reflected in the glorious movies being made in Hollywood. Josh Brolin plays the problem solver for a fictional movie studio whose job is to keep stars in line and their projects on track, quashing scandals by spending days and nights on the road and very little time at home. He is currently entertaining the possibility of applying his talents to a different industry considering a sweet offer he is getting from Lockheed, a decision that might need to be made soon considering the leading man (George Clooney) of a Ben-Hur-like epic has been kidnapped by a cabal of communist screenwriters before filming has been completed. Scarlett Johansson plays an Esther Williams-like swimming star whose pregnancy and unmarried status also need tending to, while Alden Ehrenreich (who is terrific) is a cowboy superstar whose career change into dapper Lubitsch-like comedy (directed by Ralph Fiennes) is turning out to be a disaster. These characters and more (including a cheeky dance number by Channing Tatum as Gene Kelly and Tilda Swinton as both Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons) are all in the service of a laborious and empty plot that is possibly meant to reveal the shallow and childish nature of an industry we mistakenly worship as a moral and political force. Clooney spends little time with his captors, whose sinister nature never pays off, and is instantly won over to their cause because we are meant to see the innocuous nature of the figures who were so viciously villainized by the government during the McCarthy Red Scare trials? It’s impossible to understand what the film is meant to really be other than an indulgence in set decoration and gorgeous costumes, and waiting for it to find its footing is excruciating despite the many moments of genuine comedy and terrific visual appeal.