There’s no denying the talents of Ethan and Joel Coen. These Academy Award winning brothers have written and directed an extraordinary body of work, most notably including No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo. Their names alone are enough to get me excited about a movie, as they are practically synonymous with quality. Such was the case with their latest film Hail, Caesar! which boasts a robust and talented cast. Regrettably, even with the skill of the Coen Brothers, impressive production values and all of the big names attached, Hail, Caesar! is a long, and often arduous affair. Much like the film’s movie within a movie, from which Hail, Caesar! gets its name, it has all the right pieces for success, but still ultimately fails to satisfy or even thoroughly entertain.
The film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, the head of production for Capital Pictures, which was a premier movie studio in a fictional 1950’s Hollywood. Mannix spends his days tirelessly working to keep the studio’s reputation picture perfect, despite a plethora of problems that exist beneath the surface. When the company’s biggest movie star Baird Whitlock, as played by George Clooney, is suddenly kidnapped for ransom by a mysterious group known only as The Future, it’s up to Mannix to keep the incident under wraps while trying to rescue his prized star.
On top of Baird’s abduction, Mannix is also dealing with protecting the pristine image of famed actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who is pregnant out of wedlock, appeasing acclaimed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) whose lead role has been horribly miscast, and fending off a feverish pair of twin reporters (Tilda Swinton) who have become aware of Baird’s absence, all while facing the pressure of an alluring new job opportunity. If you’re gasping for air after that overly long sentence, just imagine how Mannix must feel with all of that on his plate. Yet he takes it all on like the consummate professional (well, apart from his tendency to smack people around).
Given the busy nature of Hail, Caesar! as it encompasses the hustle and bustle of a major Hollywood studio, in addition to a star-studded kidnapping and Communist conspiracy, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with the majority of the film’s characters. Yet despite many of them being little more than one-and-done roles, the characters themselves are still mainly quite good. Additionally, as expected, the performances by this blockbuster cast are commendable, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of them award worthy.
Josh Brolin gives a respectable performance in his starring role, showing that Mannix is a reputable man of action and taking care of business. Relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich is a show-stealer as Hobie Doyle, the beloved western movie star with exceptional agility and lasso skills but no discernible acting talent. Doyle is helplessly and comically clueless as he finds himself placed in the lead role of a serious drama. Ralph Fiennes plays Hobie’s director in this film and he struggles to keep his composure while instructing him in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes.
Tilda Swinton excels in her double performance as self-centered journalist sisters. Scarlett Johansson does an admirable job portraying the double-sided nature of her character, who is presented as a silver screen darling, despite being a foul-mouthed broad. Channing Tatum leads a catchy homoerotic song and dance number in what is probably the best sequence of the movie. Lastly, of course, is George Clooney as the iconic but somewhat idiotic Baird Whitlock who does a decent job but ultimately has little to work with.
The comedy in Hail, Caesar! is mildly amusing at best. It musters a few smirks but never got any real laughter out of me. I can admire some of the attempts at humor, but they still left much to be desired, just like the majority of the film itself. Frankly I found the whole experience of watching Hail, Caesar! to be predominantly boring. The story isn’t especially interesting and the conflicts, including the kidnapping caper, are disappointing. For a movie that’s trying to bring life to the good old days of cinema, it sure makes them look dull.