Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Runtime: 106 minutes
Cast: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb): A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
Hail, Caesar! finds the Coen Brothers in straight-up comedy form, with similarities to their earlier productions such as The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? rife. Like a lot of their work, Hail, Caesar! promotes character and situation over plot, which makes for an enjoyable film, but not a stellar one.
Now, there are a few stellar aspects to Hail, Caesar! Firstly, it is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, and everything about it is wonderfully reminiscent of the era. The films, characters, sets and the situations feel like they have been lifted straight out of that era. The Coen Brothers obviously know their film history, as it was all so realistic, at times you could’ve been tricked into thinking all the films being made throughout the film were actually from that era. A lot of the films and situations in the film actually reference films from the era and stories about the most famous actors, Hail, Caesar! is crammed full of these references. It evokes the era in a special way, absolutely nailing every aspect of those years in Hollywood. I loved it.
The film has such a strong eye for detail, surely a sign of magnificent direction? I’d like to think so. The way everything works and looks is incredible. Part of this is thanks to the cast, too. Each member of the knockout cast fits their role perfectly. George Clooney is definitely a leading man form the golden era, Josh Brolin effortlessly carries the trials and tribulations of a Hollywood problem solver. He’s the star of the show, and in a career filled with brilliant turns, I think this is his finest. Brolin carries the film, pulling all the strings both for the film and the audience in a plot convinced that it needs to be filled with side-stories that add little to the overall film.
I understand that to truly appreciate all the hard work Brolin’s character puts in to keep his studio ticking, you need to see multiple issues, but Hail, Caesar! shows a little too much. Take Johansson’s story of an actress having an issue because she is pregnant, but she needs a father for the baby to keep up appearances with the incredibly devoted audience. It’s poking fun at the strict rules in the golden era, and the crazed, demanding fans, but it adds little of any worth to the overall plot of the film. This isn’t the only time, either. There are a few smaller sub-plots within the film that add little to the plot. These distractions offer more pastiche and more well thought out characters, yes, but I feel they take away from the pace of the film, causing it to stutter every now and then.
The main meat of the film is structured around the disappearance of George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock (a role Clooney was born to play, might I add). He’s your typical leading man of the golden era. The studio’s Jesus epic depends on the return of Whitlock, and it is up to Brolin’s Eddie Mannix to find him. It all gets incredibly silly rather quickly and throws up a lot of laughs along the way. It’s a simple plot, but it develops and spirals out of control in the final third, becoming more interesting. Within the film, a talent is found. Alden Ehrenreich (whom I’ve never heard of before) arguably offers the standout performance as Hobie Doyle; a Western actor being forced to step out of his comfort zone. Doyle at first seems like just another almost pointless sub-plot, but as the film develops, he becomes more integral to the plot. He shares some fantastic scenes with Ralph Fiennes, too, almost worth the price of admission alone.
Hail, Caesar! isn’t the Coen Brothers at their best, but it does offer a lot of laughs and some wonderful pastiches of the golden era of Hollywood. Everything feels like it was lifted straight out of the period. Sure, some of the sub-plots add little of any worth to the overall film, but you’ll be having such a good time in the 1950s that it doesn’t really matter.