Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
It’s 1951 and Capitol Films Head of Physical Production and studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Brolin) has the unenviable role of keeping the cogs of the movie studio well-oiled and functioning. Dim-witted major acting star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) has somewhat predictably been kidnapped by a bunch of bickering Communist intellectuals calling themselves The Future, his safe return guaranteed only by the receipt of one hundred thousand dollars. Mannix is tasked with sourcing and delivering the ransom while endeavouring to keep a lid on a myriad of other studio tribulations. Hollywood beauty DeeAnna Moran’s (Johansson) out of wedlock pregnancy is threatening to derail her sweet public image while likable cowboy Hobie Doyle’s (Ehrenreich) switch from the limited dialogue of the action western to the intelligent discourse of the serious drama adaptation is proving strenuous. Maddix continues to battle on all fronts while the stories attempt to unfold around him.
The characters are all enjoyable Coen standard; Whitlock, the classic Coen Clooney idiot, Doyle the likable and honest ranch-boy made good, Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) the theatre luvvie constantly on the edge of his patience with the new non-thespian film actor generation. No personality is wasted here and each is lovingly added to the increasingly eccentric Coen back catalogue.
Hail, Caesar! is beautifully painted and wonderfully flaunts the glorious mid-century Hollywood glamour thickly lacquered over the ego-centric stars of post-war fame. It looks and feels wonderful and is a joy to watch.
However, a serious problem with Hail, Caesar! is that none of the main stories overlap in any way so feel frustratingly disjointed, and some of the major plot lines end up fizzling out to nothing, explained away in a quick dialogue afterthought. Characters just seem to disappear completely without any finality. It seems at times that whole storylines are set up to deliver a killer line then forgotten about and discarded like an ugly Christmas puppy.
Another problem is that sometimes the character’s narrative is neglected in favour of the musical routines, filmed as part of the Capitol movie-making process. Although this shows the distinction between the smiling charming on-screen personas and the problematic actor underneath, on more than one occasion it feels incorrectly weighted in favour of the choreography and doesn’t really add much to the movie as a whole.
The enigma of the Coen brother’s writing is that it treads an exceptionally undefined fine line; when it succeeds it’s thoroughly enjoyable original film-making but when it fails it is disappointing and fragmented. The perplexing part is that it’s almost impossible to quantify why a scene drops to one side or the other.
Hail, Caesar! is as barmy as you’d expect from the Coen’s. It’s mostly enjoyable, delivers some great laughs and the acting is top notch. Unfortunately, the plot is so disjointed at times with so many aimless tangents that by the end it feels annoyingly unsatisfactory.
6 / 10