Hail, Caesar! was advertised as more of a comedy than anything else, about a mega movie star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who is abducted by a group of communist writers Whitlock is in the middle of filming the massively budgeted Hail, Caesar!, a 1950’s “prestige picture”, which means it has a lot of huge stars, extravagant sets and production values. These were big in the 40’s and 50’s and as a film about that time period Joel and Ethan Coen have keen senses of what went on in that time. Not only in front of the camera but more importantly, behind. It is a hit and miss affair with the Coen’s Hail, Caesar! as a film for today, but for what it sets out to do, it works for the most part.
What the Coen’s have done is create a spectacle of films within films and focuses on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) , a studio “fixer” if you will. If there is a problem with a star, call Eddie. If there is some hanky panky going on with a picture that could hurt the studio, call Eddie. Keeping the performers out of trouble and as clean as their Hollywood image suggests, is a full time job for Mannix, who seems to be tired of his job with the studio he works for, Capitol Pictures. He is so tired, in fact, he has a job offer from Lockheed Aviation. It would still be putting out fires, so to speak, but a different setting and that is something Mannix thinks he would like.
Hail, Caesar! is a homage to not only the “prestige” pictures but also to the noir films of the same time. There are meetings in rundown Chinese restaurants, smoke filled back lots and hazy rooms where you can practically taste the dust and moth balls. Mannix is immersed in a world where he is on the move all day long and into the wee hours of the night, much to the chagrin of his wife played with sweet charm by Allison Pill. As for the rest of the cast, mostly are just glorified cameos with Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton (playing a dual role as sisters who work for competing gossip magazines), Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand, Christopher Lambert (yes, the guy from the Highlander films), Clancy Brown, Wayne Knight, Fisher Stevens and David Krumholtz. They all have a couple of scenes but are not given that much to do. They service the plot and are decent enough to sell the material, but no one is taking home an Oscar for their performances, except maybe a nod to Josh Brolin. He is spectacular as Eddie Mannix.
I did some research on Eddie Mannix and he was a real person whose title was Studio Executive and Producer, but was primarily a “fixer”. He worked for MGM and was responsible for the costs and box office revenues of just about every film MGM released from 1924 to 1962. Mannix died in 1963 from a heart attack at 72, but is considered to be a rather historical figure in the yesteryears of the golden age of Hollywood. Brolin captures all of the nervous energy of a “fixer” and channels it to be more controlled chaos as he bounces from crisis to crisis. Brolin plays Mannix with a certain humanity so that what we get is a guy who does the extraordinary to keep things running smooth, but clearly he is unsure, pensive and even a little scared of what the future holds. Brolin does a nice balancing act. He is funny, smart and sensitive.
As for Clooney as Baird, he is good enough, but he spends most of the time looking befuddled which is part of his character and his movie persona. Alden Ehrenreich (the new Han Solo) is Hobie Doyle, a fresh looking young man who they stick in cowboy pictures but could not act his way out of a wet paper bag. Ehrenreich’s Doyle is a simple fellow who knows he is kind of out of his element but has a good personality, is honest and wants to work. He ends up helping Mannix’s problem with the abduction of Whitlock but it is handled in a convincing way. Doyle may not be well educated, but he has some street smarts which come in handy.
Hail, Caesar! is a clever homage and is smartly written by two of Hollywood’s best writers and directors, the Coen Brothers. It is self deprecating, has a few laughs and Roger Deakins’ cinematography captures the time period beautifully. The problem with Hail, Caesar! for me was, the film is not consistently funny enough to be considered a comedy, and the mystery is only touched on as a passing observation. I think this film is supposed to a satire and on that level it is okay. Don’t look too much into it, and to be sure, Hail, Caesar! is NOT for everyone. This does not have the language or blood curdling violence that previous Coen films have had. This is not that kind of film. I appreciate the Coen’s have enough faith in this material and to respect the audience that it was intended for. This is a film lover’s film. If you appreciate the era of Spartacus, Cleopatra and other big budget, swords and sandal epics of the 40’s and 50’s Hail, Caesar! does work well enough for me to give it a cautious recommendation. Like I said though, this is for a niche audience so be aware this is an odd and quirky film that will not work for everybody.
Hail, Caesar! – *** out of 5
Hail, Caesar! – Rated PG-13 for language and adult situations
Hail, Caesar! – Run Time is 106 minutes
Hail, Caesar is now available on DVD and On Demand