Published on February 8th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar is a romp through classic Hollywood, its madcap plot showcasing some subversive thoughts on the movies and stars of yesterday.
In the Coen Brothers’ new film Hail, Caesar, the filmmaking duo explores the golden age of Hollywood; anecdotes that have become legend, but the side of it that few people knew about at the time, in a way-pre-internet world. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, head of production at Capitol Studios, a man in charge of facilitating the flow of celluloid entertainment to the masses as well as keeping the stars in line. This was a time where some of the biggest heartthrobs were sent on studio-arranged dates so the gossip trades would report on their male virility (and cast doubts on rumours of homosexuality). Where unmarried, pregnant starlets dove through legal loopholes in order to keep their children, the public unaware of any scandal. Hail, Caesar plucks and pulls from some real life material, while also adding the Coens’ fictional spin on things.
The film features excellent performances from a sizeable cast of today’s big stars, like George Clooney playing a doofus leading man, kidnapped from the set of the latest sword and sandal epic. You can experience all the plotlines yourself when you see the movie, but some of the stars on parade include Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and Francis McDormand. Slate ran a fun piece guessing at/explaining where each of their characters intersect with reality.
If the Coens’ versatility leads them down paths that can be moody and dark or funny and madcap, Hail, Caesar slides easily into the latter category. It’s a light-hearted romp through classic Hollywood with quirky characters and even a couple of song and dance numbers, as were popular back then. It’s a loving testament to that time, but it’s also a satirical skewering of the Hollywood of yore. From Mannix’s adventures in covering up rumors, to hints at the coming anti-Communist blacklist campaign, the movie paints a telling picture.
While it is a fun little flick, it’s not hard to come away with the criticism that it’s a bit unfocused and scattershot at times. The laughs are there, to be sure, but they’re not always consistent. Worse, some characters feel pretty tacked on, like the whole movie was written in haste. Johansson’s character is one of the bigger offenders. She has an interesting little story arc, but it never really interacts with the overall plot, and worse, we never see her ending. We are simply filled in about what happened to her by Mannix, an afterthought at the denouement of the film.
So, Hail, Caesar isn’t close to being one of their best films, but it’s also not bad. It’s a fun little distraction that is probably easily forgettable. But considering the Coen Brothers’ career, there’s no shame in that. They pump out movies at a prolific rate. Woody Allen used to do this simply because he had the output in him, and because it meant his crew and people could be employed each year. I feel similar about the Coen Brothers. And like Allen, some of their movies are masterpieces, while the odd one is a dud. But you know what? I’d rather spend my hard earned bucks on chuckling my way through ten more Hail, Caesars than squirming through one more generic Michael Bay tentpole film. The Coens are leaders among the few mainstream filmmakers that take a smarter, bolder, more original approach to their work. Movies and moviegoers are all the better for it.