“Would that it were so simple..”
In the early 1950s, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is busy at work trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer and a handsome dancer. As if all this wasn’t enough, Mannix faces his biggest challenge when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped while in costume for the swords-and-sandals epic “Hail, Caesar!” If the studio doesn’t pay $100,000, it’s the end of the line for the movie star.
The brights lights that dawn Hollywood, are a marvel of grace and beauty set in stone with the golden age of the industry. The ancient days of glorious talkies, and epic sprawling tales told by the artists of old. The Coen Brothers latest fare is a dubious tale which pays homage to the glorious golden age of film, but is a decidedly aimless, dull, and convoluted love letter to old school silver screen pictures. Hail Caesar works as a clever satire of 1950’s film, but struggles to tell a gripping story, and instead resigns itself to little more than a sketch film, with several moving parts that do not result in a coherent story.
The Coen brothers are essentially the gold standard in Hollywood. With an epic list of credits to their names, they bring legitimacy to every project they brandish. Hail Caesar is no different. With the directing duo helming the picture it’s no surprise a bevy of A list celebrities signed on to be a part of the magic that is Joel and Ethan Coen. The “story” follows Brolin’s Eddie Mannix as he trudges through his hectic daily routines as a fixer of sorts, running a studio with precision. While there is no question that Brolin is the lead, the marketing will play you for a fool. The trailers would have you believe that the main story line is the kidnapping and attempted recovery of the studio’s biggest star, Clooney’s Baird Whitlock. However this story is rather shallow, and is only utilized as a device to bring Mannix into the fold. This movie is all about the life and times of Eddie Mannix as he runs his studio and deals with various monotonous and tedious issues brought to him, including, but not limited too, nosey gossip columnists, privileged directors, promiscuous stars, and perhaps least prominently, the disappearance of Baird Whitlock. The old bait and switch is not merely a plot twist, but is the identity of this film. With marketing laced with big names in bold print, most of the performers whose names likely drew you into the theater, are no better than bit parts, with minimal dialogue and no consequence to the story, except to poke the bear that is Eddie Mannix.
Where the film is at it’s best is in the satire department. Mostly playing as a love letter meant to honor the golden age of film, Hail Caesar is both vibrant and brilliant in it’s subtle yet grandiose portrayal of classic cinema. With so many wonderful set pieces and beautifully choreographed numbers (Channing Tatum has a delightful song and dance that steals the movie), this film is a modern marvel and provides so many chuckle inducing and wide smiling moments. Unfortunately these moments are divided into sketches that invariably have nothing to do with the central plot whatsoever. In fact the story is rather aimless, and sloppily mashed together. The basic overlayer is that there is no discernible story or message to be found, and Hail Caesar is more or less an excuse for it’s creators to visit classic 50’s Hollywood. The satirical aspects of the film are beautifully drawn out, and intelligently written, it’s just everything in between that weighs this film down, reducing it to a dull and at times insufferable waste of time.
The characters are all rather clever, just poorly fleshed out. The film is star studded, but it’s all for not, as the A lister’s are poorly used and flattened to one note characters meant only to provide brief humor in an otherwise deliriously boring story. Brolin’s turn as Eddie Mannix is the most prominent of the bunch, and he does well to serve the directors yarn. As the fixer he is the crossing point of the characters and the only connecting dot in the whole film. The rest of the cast is given little to do. Clooney, is reduced to a womanizing bumbling fool, easily seduced by a group of witless and baffoonish communist writers. Scarlett Johansson is the lot floozy, sleeping around and constantly looking for a man to wed, hoping to conceal a sinful pregnancy. Tilda Swinton plays a set of gossipy twins who provide some humor amongst the facade. Then there’s Channing Tatum, who has so little to do with the overarching story that it was more distracting than pleasing to see him here, say for his song and dance number. The rest of the cast is more of the same, including a cameo from Jonah Hill, who has one line, and his entire scene is in the trailer for the film. The movie is a disappointment as far as performances are concerned, but that is due in large part to the script that gives so little exposition, that these shallow characters are met with shallow performances.
It is the sheer randomness of Hail Caesar that leaves a bad taste in it’s wake. The film works better as a sort of Saturday Night Live style sketch or group of sketches, poking fun at the golden age of motion pictures. Instead we are given a feature length version, that provides little entertainment. The film lacked momentum, it had so many grand ideas that it never fully explores, which reduces the film to a dull snoozefest that only comes alive in fleeting moments of fantastic discourse. Spending so much time producing these vignettes that are meant to display different flavors of classic Hollywood fare, Hail Caesar forgets to give the audience an ounce of coherence. Instead, it settles on a hodgepodge of great ideas and characters, but none of these ideas or characters are given an opportunity to build an identity that we can verify, diminishing the returns from the embellished production scenes. This is ultimately a hollow film that struggles to give us the structure and inane humor that we are so accustomed to from a Coen brothers picture. In the end it is a valiant effort that provides sincere moments of true pleasure, but unfortunately Hail Caesar is far less than the sum of it’s parts.
2.4/5 Do Better Bro