The Coen Brothers are an establishment of their own now, merging genre, eccentricity and humour to produce a bunch of fantastic and fantastically different films. Their latest, Hail, Caesar!, looks back at Hollywood and its past, and fails really to capture the same sense of brilliance as their earlier pictures – a lot of fantastic aspects are smushed together to create a film that doesn’t really work. A bunch of individual moments are just that, loosely connected moments, which will captivate the viewer but leave them a little let down when the credits roll.
Set in the early 1950s, the film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood enforcer who is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. Amongst his latest assignments, he must contend with a disgruntled director (Ralph Fiennes) and his new star, singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), and a singing mermaid (Scarlett Johansson). Topping it all off, however, is Mannix’s biggest challenge – Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has been kidnapped while filming the Biblical epic ‘Hail, Caesar!’ and, if the studio doesn’t pay a ransom of $100,000, it’s game over for the movie star.
The Coen’s movie is, really, a love letter (of sorts) to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it is an era that it captures beautifully. You truly have a sense of being in the 50s, and the miniature film worlds conjured up in each picture evoke that period in a captivating and authentic manner – it is clear that great care has been exercised in ensuring that these pictures ring true, from the singing cowboy flick ‘Lazy Ol’ Moon’ to the epic pomposity of the titular film. Particular kudos goes to the sailor comedy starring an especially Gene Kelly-ish Channing Tatum, with a full song and dance routine that is, I think, the highlight of the film.
This is Brolin’s film as Mannix (apparently a real guy, too – I didn’t know this, though, so I can’t say how it would temper your understanding), playing it straight in a world as bizarre as you would imagine. He channels a sense on unflappability, but perhaps one that is more artificial that he would prefer to let one. There are also a lot of supporting players, but they mostly appear sporadically (certainly not as often as the trailer would have you believe) and do a lot on little time. Clooney is good fun as the star who is turned onto communism and Marx, and Fiennes’ exasperated director is the source of most of the movie’s comedy.
Really, there are so many good elements here than it is arguably more of a shame that the movie doesn’t really bind together – it is a bit of an unfocused mash-up of a film that is neither as clever nor as funny as it seems to think it is. It is overstuffed and the story is so lax, it is hard to really care about its solution – although it is visually spectacular and fantastic in the way it harks back to the Golden Era, it is at best a loose string of non-sequiturs which don’t really drive the plot in any way. Some may argue that that is not the point of the picture but, if you’re going to force a plot like Hail, Caesar! does, at least pay it more than lip-service.
If you adore the work of the Coen Brothers, this movie will be right up your street, containing all of their signature quirks and style. However, whereas their typical desire to avert classical form normally results in inspired filmmaking, Hail, Caesar! is instead a mix of mostly pointless (albeit stunning realised and captivating) sequences that don’t really engage. There is a lot to love here, but the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts and it will leave you feeling a bit cheated when the initial awe fades away.
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Tilda Swinton (Thora/Thessaly Thacker)
Running Time: 106 Mins