Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill
Synopsis: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The Coen Brothers are known for making films they want to do, and don’t try to make franchise films that the studios today try to make. They also have their own unique style and vision that makes their films standout in their own way. Hail, Caesar! is no different. Their new film acts as a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood at times, but swings back and forth between that said love letter and showing us the craziness that existed in the time (and probably now too), and the overall absurdity of it all.
Set during the 1950s, Capitol Pictures (a fictional studio) is set to release their biggest picture to date titled Hail, Caesar! with the biggest star in Hollywood in Baird Whitlock (Clooney). However, during the last days of filming, Whitlock gets kidnapped by a group calling themselves “The Future” and it’s up to the studio’s fixer in Eddie Mannix (Brolin) to find him and make all this go away. Of course, Mannix is dealing with everything else like covering up the pregnancy of DeeAnna Moran (Johansson), moving his cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) to a full fledge prestige drama with big time director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes), dealing with twin sister columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Swinton) and his own personal problems. During all this, Whitlock gets to known his captors in a different light.
Hail, Caesar! like a lot of other Coen Brothers films is going to be a film you either like, or don’t, and while the statement can be said about any film it is no more truer than with this film. The trailers for Hail, Caesar! tell a bit of a different story than we see in the actual film, and that isn’t really that bad of a thing. The film is pretty straight forward once things are put into perspective. That’s not to say things get a little weird and are ridiculous at times, but Hail, Caesar! is great at showing us how every relationship is very topsy-turvy.
At the same time, Hail, Caesar! doesn’t have a problem branching off and leaving the Whitlock story. We follow Hobie and his transition from doing cowboy films to doing his first drama, a water dance sequence by Johansson’s Moran, and even a standout dance sequence that involves Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney. The scenes have nothing to do with Whitlock, but they show the absurdity that Mannix and Capitol Pictures deal with on a regular basis. The scenes are great, but again, have nothing to do with the main conflict of the story which is Whitlock’s kidnapping.
I don’t want to give away too much, but the film also has some religious overtones, the film Hail, Caesar! is a religious picture as well as it tells the story of a Roman tribune that eventually meets Jesus, and Mannix is a religious man himself as the film beginning of the film sees him in a confessional. Of course, it doesn’t really help as his character is flawed and does something immediately after that well defeat the purpose for some, but it was a different time back then.
So even if Hail, Caesar! isn’t your cup of tea, you have to admit the performances are worthwhile. The film belongs to Josh Brolin, who we see running around the lot to control everything in the studio. George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock isn’t a typical big star that is hard to work with, he’s just an actor who happens to be good at what he does and gets kidnapped, and has a bit of a womanizer side. Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie is definitely a highlight of the film as he’s just nice guy that is a bit naïve and goofy, who perfectly fits into a Coen Brothers film.
The supporting cast has surprisingly small and few scenes, with the only real connection being Mannix. Scarlet Johansson puts on a thick accent and fits into the Golden Age with her looks and wardrobe. Tilda Swinton chews up the scenery with her duel role as twin rivals, and Frances McDormand – who only has one scene – is another one of the highlights and one of the funniest scenes of the film. Jonah Hill also only has one scene in the movie, which in entirety is an okay scene. Finally, Ralph Fiennes as Laurence Laurentz is great to watch and arguably has one of the best scenes in the film with Ehrenreich.
All in all, Hail, Caesar! can be a bit all over the place, but that is exactly what the Coen Brothers were probably trying to do. Their film isn’t afraid to pull any punches against their peers or what Hollywood was back in the day. The film won’t be for everyone, but Hail, Caesar! definitely has something for everyone.
4 out of 5