Hail, Caesar!, 2016.
Produced, Written, and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Max Baker, Heather Goldenhersh, Veronica Osorio, Clancy Brown, Wayne Knight, Fisher Stevens, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lambert, Natasha Bassett, Alex Karpovsky, John Bluthal, and Alison Pill.
A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
“It’s either going to work or it isn’t” – George Clooney in some interview I once read online that I can’t find anymore discussing the production of Hail, Caesar!.
Producers, writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen have a rich history of tackling different genres, in turn making for a broad range of films; you’ve got classic characters like The Dude in the freewheeling stoner comedy The Big Lebowski, symbolism permeating the experience of more artistic efforts such as Inside Llewyn Davis, and previous oddball comedies with ensemble casts like Burn After Reading. Essentially, if nothing else, that little comment from George Clooney made me more enthused to check out Hail, Caesar!; It’s a pair of my favorite filmmakers of all time seemingly attempting something bold and incredibly challenging.
Whether the duo hits the mark or misses the mark as far as the commentary/satire of 1950s Hollywood goes isn’t really of my concern. If you’re wondering, the movie does have quite a few stretches of dead air, and really doesn’t come together as a picture with coherent flow and a clear plot, it’s just that I don’t care. The one thing the Coen Brothers excel at above all else is creating memorable characters of idiosyncratic quality that stay with you long after the credits roll, and let me tell you, I won’t be forgetting the southern gunslinger turned dramatic actor portrayed by the relatively unknown Alden Ehrenreich, or Channing Tatum’s hypnotic, homoerotic dance routine as a sailor.
The Coen Brothers love movies, specifically speaking, the golden era of Hollywood (this isn’t their first film dabbling in the subject material, although Barton Fink is a much more cynical outlook on the landscape with much darker thematic material, whereas Hail, Caesar! portrays Hollywood envisioned as a paradise full of absurd shenanigans), and your affection for that era of filmmaking will play a sizable role in how much of the film’s charm effects you.
Practically every character or fictional film is a re-imagining of something that actually happened, and much of the entertainment value actually comes from successfully being able to point out these little bits of trivia. Roger Deakins is also on board collaborating once again with the Coen Brothers, pulling off some majestic shot composition that makes many of the old films being mocked look the part. Going back to that Channing Tatum dance sequence, it is also superbly crafted; probably the highlight of the entire movie next to a bunch of diversified religious people at a focus group discussing and squabbling if a film’s depiction of Jesus Christ is offensive or not.
In the end, what hurts Hail, Caesar! and greatly adjusts your attention elsewhere is the fact that much of the film follows Josh Brolin portraying a fictionalized rendition of real-life MGM executive Eddie Mannix, as he pretty much just checks up on all of these aforementioned actors and directors to make sure everything is going according to plan, and that the unsavory aspects of their lives are being hidden from the media and tabloid papers. Naturally, a lot of turmoil is fixated on the character, to the point where you are expecting the typical meltdown scene, but it never actually comes, because the message of the movie is that he is actually fantastic at his job. Josh Brolin cannot be blamed however, as he is actually endearing as the studio executive fixer desperately trying not to crack under pressure, amusingly visiting church every 24 hours when his only sin is simply smoking after promising his wife he quit; he gracefully handles each situation and moves on to the next, with each moment proving to be mildly entertaining to an extent. The problem is that this doesn’t necessarily make for a wholly entertaining movie or steady roll of major laughs… just chuckles occasionally and intrigue in various characters. Plot is completely MIA..
It’s actually quite boring, and the fact that so many talented and charismatic actors (namely Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) get literally mere minutes of screen-time, well it renders everything as glorified pointless cameos. Maybe some stuff got lost on the cutting room floor, but either way, many of the roles here feel squandered in favor of a movie obsessed with playfully sending up the reputation of Hollywood’s golden age.
There are still quite a few laughs to be had (George Clooney is absolutely brilliant as a kidnapped victim who basically develops Stockholm Syndrome from his Communist captors), but for the most part, Hail, Caesar! is like a vehicle that’s always on the verge of breaking down but never does. Instead, it gets you to the destination, effectively getting the job done, leaving little room to complain. The impeccable set designs and multiple era costume appropriate wardrobes alone make the movie more than enough tolerable to coast along with freely and have fun, despite its shortcomings. I’m also going to mention Channing Tatum’s dancing for a third time, just because I can.
This is middle-of-the-road territory as far as the Coen Brothers filmography goes, which is still a rather generous piece of praise, considering that even their average movies are better than most of what is out there in the magical land of movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★