Old Hollywood was so much more interesting.
Being the known and so-called “fixer” for Capitol Pictures during the 50’s, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has got a lot on his plate. One concerns a disgruntled director (Ralph Fiennes), who can’t seem to get his actor to deliver the right lines. Another involves a singing cowboy known as Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who wants to be a bigger star and may also need a date for the premiere of his new flick. Then, there’s rising star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who suddenly becomes pregnant before production and is in need of someone to take care of her. And then, last but not least, there’s the issue of superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), someone who has gone mysteriously missing, while his latest film, Hail, Caesar!, is in the last stages of production. Reasons surrounding the why, or better yet, the who, of the capturing of Baird isn’t answered, but Mannix will not stop until he finds Whitlock and everything goes back to normal. However, there’s mounting pressure from all sides, especially when twin gossip reporters, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), come snooping around, wanting to know what the latest scoop is.
It’s nice to know that talented writers and directors like the Coen brothers are still trusted enough in Hollywood, to be allowed to do whatever it is that they want, with whomever they want, and however they want to. That’s why a movie like Hail, Caesar!, a polished, lovely-looking throwback and tribute to the old, post-war days of Hollywood where people were more naturally good-looking, all smoked, and seemed to be living lives of absolute luxury. And it’s no surprise that the Coens have actually gone so far as to make a movie like this, considering that most of their movies have an old-timey, screwball-appeal, but now, considering that their flick is placed in the early 50’s, they’re allowed to be as goofy and odd as they want to be, with the obvious wink-wink at the audience of what’s being made fun of.
Which is to say that, yes, Hail, Caesar! is actually a funny movie. There’s a lot of side-jocks, puns, and goofy occurrences that the Coens use here that make the movie not only entertaining, but also exciting. You don’t know what trick or trade their going to pull out of their hat next and it goes without saying, that while not all of the jokes or gags land, they are still seen as efforts from two people who clearly know and understand the form of creating a joke and allowing for it to land.
This is all mentioned to let the record state that Hail, Caesar!, the actual movie itself and not the movie-within-the-movie, is not a very good Coen brothers flick, but a fine one.
The main issue with Hail, Caesar! is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a energizing plot driving it. Sure, there’s a lot going on here, that Mannix, the protagonist, has to deal with and solve, but mostly all of the subplots come and go as they please, without their being much pushing everything forward. Rather than feeling fun, spirited and frothy, Hail, Caesar! surprisingly finds the Coens in a more subdued state, where they aren’t working as quickly as we’ve seen them before, but focusing more on the details of each subplot, as well as certain characters.
Which is fine and all, but nobody in Hail, Caesar! is really all that interesting, or as compelling of a character as the Coens may think. Mannix himself seems to be an intriguing specimen, who not only works as a collective fixer in Hollywood, but also a hardcore, dedicated family man, but really, he’s here to just service other colorful and sometimes, weird characters. Clooney’s Whitlock is clearly a take on Kirk Douglas, which doesn’t go much further than that; Johansson’s Moran is an old school dame, who definitely has a lot of sass, but not much more; and Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle, perhaps the standout of the flick, is perhaps the only given more to work with in general.
In fact, it’s the scenes with Hobie Doyle that work the most.
Whether he’s trying to nail a simple line in a very fluffy period-drama, or charm the pants off of his date, there’s something sweet and lovable about Hobie Doyle that not only makes you want to see more of him, but maybe wish that the movie was just about him and his rise in Hollywood. Ehrenreich is a likable enough presence to have us buy into the boyish charm of this character, while at the same time, still seeing him for a human being, even among all of the fakes and phonies that sometimes show up here. Though he’s been around the pond quite a few times, it seems like Hail, Caesar!, if anything, will be the launching pad for Alden Ehrenreich.
And everybody else is fine here, too. Actually, everybody who does show up, whether they be large roles, supporting roles, or simply, extended cameos, every member of the cast is clearly game for this material and want to add their own two cents in any way that they can. Is there perhaps too much of everyone here? Of course there is! However, it’s also sort of fun to watch the likes of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in a Coen brothers movie – something I’d never thought I’d see, but I’m glad I did and could definitely get used to.
But really, that’s all that Hail, Caesar! is: Fun and fine.
The movie’s not particularly deep, or special in that it brings some new sense of fun and charm to the Coen brothers style. If anything, it just shows that they’re capable of doing whatever movie they want. So what if it doesn’t always work or constantly excite us? Sometimes, the best movies are those that set-out to just entertain and leave it at that! Is it disappointing considering what we know from the Coens?
Most definitely, but hey, I’ll take fun and fine, over depressing and boring any day!
Consensus: Hail, Caesar! won’t stand as the best film of the Coens storied-career, but still proves that their attention to humor, fun and detail will never go away, no matter what environment they’re working in.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire