I'd seen the trailer for this so many times that the initial excitement which I always feel when I learn that a Cohen Brothers film is on the way had dwindled close to apathy and was in danger of coming out the other side. But I retained hope that the actual film would fulfil my original hopes, my expectations boosted by numerous positive and very enthusiastic reviews (One critic on the radio said she "laughed like a drain all the way through!") So did it redeem itself for me? Alas, no. And I'd go further by saying that I rate this as one of their weakest efforts for some years. Such a let-down when it held great promise from that first view of the trailer, at least until I started growing weary of it.
Set in early 1950s Hollywood, a time when Biblical epics were 'big' in all senses, Josh Brolin is the professional 'go-to fixer' who learns that the super-star (George Clooney, playing an actor who can't remember his lines) of the current religioso screen extravaganza has been kidnapped by a blacklisted Communist writers' collective for a ransom of $100,000. (Clooney wears the same Roman centurion costume in which he was abducted, throughout the film).
Meanwhile English director Ralph Fiennes has had foisted on him as the star of his film, a young 'cowboy' who can't act (Alden Ehrenreich, a name I didn't know though now see that he featured in Woody Allen's excellent 'Blue Jasmine').
Then there's Scarlet Johannson in an Esther Williams-like formation-swimming set piece, she herself having to display a happily beaming face while she's actually in stroppy mood, pregnant and husband-less, another situation that requires 'fixing' to avoid the curtains coming down on her career with all the consequent losses to Hollywood..
As yet another strand of this disparately focussed film is a sailors' dancing number in a bar - exhilaratingly choreographed, one of the film's true (and few) highlights - and featuring Channing Tatum, who has appeared in a number of significant films in recent years, most recently in Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight'.
Amid all this, Tilda Swinton, as both of two rival gossip-writing sisters (Was having two of them really necessary? It didn't add anything.) has got scent of the Clooney kidnapping and threatening Brolin with exposure of the fact in her columns while he's already having to juggle with all the above elements and, most importantly of all, have the Clooney character released or rescued.
So, to say that there's a lot going on would be something of an understatement.
I found it all a bit messy. No situation was held onto long enough to grab and hold my interest. If there's one central character it's Brolin who, for me, didn't exhibit quite enough of the haplessness and vulnerability such a figure ought to be to make the character convincing.
The script sparkled only periodically, though when it did it showed what it ought to have been like all the time, something which the Cohens have demonstrated that they are capable of doing. It's clear that others - most others, in fact - disagree with me and rate this film not only as a 'return to form' but one of their very best. I really do wish I was of the same mind.
I did smile a few times, 'few' being the salient word. But there were no wickedly funny situations, of which there are in so many of the brothers' earlier comedy-dramas. In fact the only extended piece of nonsense was the splendidly and joyously choreographed sailors' dance.
Even though I do consider this film a disappointment, it's a measure of my regard for the Cohens that I can yet rate this film as being a little above average...............................5.5.
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