Few directors have a filmography as diverse as Joel and Ethan Coen. Sure, there are the likes of Spielberg and Eastwood, but the Coen’s are intrinsically unique. They sport a style of their own. You know when you’re watching a Coen brothers film. In 2016, they returned to the director’s chair for their first effort since 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a film that tragically flew by everyone. Hail, Caesar!, is as odd as they come, but it is strangely satisfying all the while never taking a firm grasp to any specific tone or plot line. It is however, crawling with all the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood. That seems to be the mantra in the latest Coen brothers film, style over substance. This film is packed with so much period detail it almost becomes a character itself. Yet, the Coen’s can’t help but inject their signature quirky touch into the film. Featuring a very thin plot with an unsatisfying conclusion, Hail Caesar! won’t register with most people like the Coen’s other great films, but it is throughly entertaining.
The film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer at Capitol Pictures. When one of the stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), of a prestige picture goes missing, Mannix attempts to locate him without the gossip column getting a hold of the news. Meanwhile, Mannix is also dealing with several other issues at the studio including a female star (Scarlett Johannson) who’s fatherless child could ultimately create more bad news. Eddie begins to battle with his faith and another job he is being courted to. But for now, he must find his missing movie star who is held up in a house in Malibu by a group called “The Future”. The film also stars Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Alden Ehernreich.
Even though we sort of find ourselves wandering from scene to scene with seemingly no cohesivness, nearly everything in this film worked for me. The humor, the performances, the incredible attention to detail and the way this film is shot work so well together. Josh Brolin is excellent in this film as is Alden Ehernreich. Playing a type-cast cowboy, Ehernreich is superb in this film. Really, he steals the show here as he exudes confidence and poise in his performance. The old Hollywood feel the Coen’s pull off here really works as well. We see a charming and really fun dance number from Channing Tatum, channeling his inner Gene Kelly, and, a synchronized swimming scene which cinematographer Roger Deakins really nails. The Coen’s are incredibly skilled at throwing in one or two breathtakingly gorgeous scenes per movie. It helps to have a talent like Deakins behind the camera as well.
On a character level, though I did feel like his scenes were a bit irrelevant at points, Brolin’s character is a very interesting one to watch. Eddie Mannix believes in the magic of the movies, much like the directors of this film. However, he wants to believe his faith will guide him towards the right decision when it comes to a more stable job offer that comes his way.
This is satire, and this is how it should be done. It’s over the top at some points but it’s supposed to be. Aquatic spectaculars, B-movie westerns, broadway adaptations of period dramas and yes even epics the namesake of the film would suggest were the flavor of the time. Clooney channels the ghost of leading men past being featured into a Spartacus style Hollywood epic Mannix is producing. It’s all very funny satire and it is just flat out fun to see the Golden Age of cinema come to life. We get a glimpse as to what the studio system in Hollywood was really like during that great age for film as well.
Despite all the good, there’s still a lot to be desired in Hail, Caesar!. The plot is sloppily stitched together and at times it’s all over the place. While that may have been the intent, it took me out of the film a little bit. There are also a significant amount of abandoned plot points. For example, we are taken on the journey of Whitlock’s kidnapping and we see what the circumstances are around it. However, there is virtually no resolution other than the sloppy one we are forced to accept near the end of the film. There are certainly some very unsatisfying conclusions to the various subplots of the film overall. Their tonal shifts are also very uneven. We go from laugh out loud funny one moment, to a quasi existential crisis story, without ever solving the crisis.
The Coen’s have created another bizarre yet above average entry into their pantheon of films. It may not end up being one folks think about when the Coen’s come to mind, but it is not a bad film. Simply put, it’s just a really fun film to watch. It is gleaming with period detail and has an Oscar worthy production design. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it’s name was called in that category. It is entirely possible this may be a Coen brothers film that it takes multiple viewings to really take it all in. Hail, Caesar! is an energetic and insanely satisfying film. Much like the Coen’s script for last years Subrubicon, it has several side plots moving side by side with the main story. The difference here is that Hail, Caesar! is able to fit them together in a much more cohesive way despite shortcomings of its own.
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Alden Ehernreich
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for some suggestive content and smoking)