by Mason Manuel
The Coen Brothers write their love letter to the golden age of Hollywood with their tongue in cheek dramedy Hail, Caesar! The duo pull out all the stops, faithfully creating a 1950s tinsel town with an all-star cast. With the brothers being famous for their hit/miss style of films (one year we get a Big Lebowski, the next a Ladykillers) where does this one fall? Well… strangely in the middle.
Eddie Mannix, who is played by the runner up to Tommy Lee Jones’ grumpy face Josh Brolin, is a movie studio exec whose vaguely defined job is to keep everything rolling. When a picture needs an edit, an actor needs to get off a beater, or the portrayal religious figure needs to be agreed upon by four different religions (easily the most hilarious moment of the film), he’s your man. Unfortunately, his star actor Baird Witlock (George Clooney) has been kidnapped by Trumbo style communist writers and now Mannix has to pull together Hollywood’s finest actors to find him. Or at least, that’s what the marketing would have you believe. In reality, little of the film revolves around the search for Witlock. While Brolin’s Mannix is usually on the case, most of the screen time follows these random actors in their day to day lives. These segments are fun and entertaining but by the time the credits rolled, I was lost.
Though the film does have a fantastic cast, the time most of them are given is shockingly slim and little more than cameos. My surprising favorite came in the form of Channing Tatum who does a rather good job at his own musical dance number. Also along for the ride is Scarlett Johansson, a popular actress stressing about her public image, Tilda Swinton, who plays a hilarious set of gossip columnist twins, and Ralph Fiennes, a classy director who should treated as such goddamn it. Everyone brings their A-game here and no performance feels lackluster in any way. The real standout performance comes from Clooney, whom I can only image has to work incredibly hard to come off as a bumbling nervous idiot instead of the suave guy we see every day. Brolin brings his best as well, meshing loving family man with dastardly workaholic with ease. It is just sad that they don’t get more time. We spend more time with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy Toby, who is adorable but completely worthless to the story. He is on screen as much as Brolin and Clooney but serves to have one important moment at the very very end and that’s all folks. It’s a strange balance that feels off-putting and leaves me wanting more from the other members of the cast.
The story itself has a lot of moving parts that don’t quite mesh together. We have the kidnapping, sure, but we also have Johansson’s baby mama troubles, Fiennes’ art going up in smoke due to bad talent, and the fear of an A-bomb being dropped all in the mix too. If these sound completely unrelated that’s because they are and the film spends so much time on these admittedly hilarious, but out of place plot lines. When we do focus on the kidnapping itself things get a bit more focused, but even then it feels strange mostly due to time spent with the writers explaining their Communist motivations. It feels like the Coens had a bunch of good ideas but couldn’t quite flesh them out so they just bundled it all into one package.
It’s not a masterpiece but there’s plenty of fun here. The 1950s movie era is captured magically and will make audiences nostalgic for the good ol’ days. Masterfully balancing seriousness with laughs, this is a film that just about anyone can enjoy. Just try not to think too much into it. Otherwise you might leave the theatre reeling a little bit. RDR gives Hail, Caesar! A 7 out of 10.