Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Fisher Stevens
The Coen Brothers film catalog is a mix of stories of people searching and struggling to find their place and purpose in this world. Whether the opportunity of two gym employees to escape the restrictions of their lives in “Burn After Reading” or the decision of a married couple to steal a child to finally make their family dreams come true in “Raising Arizona”, it’s easy to see that these two directors like to watch their conflicted characters trudge through the cruel decisions and landscapes of life. And there is arguably none more cruel an environment than the journey through Hollywood, a character on its own and skewered once already by the artistic siblings in their film “Barton Fink”. “Hail, Caesar!” falls in the same place as the films mentioned already, a none-to-serious measure of wit and style that cleverly pokes fun of the Hollywood system while providing some memorable characters to walk through the fire and flames on their own journey.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a film studio executive working in Hollywood in the 1950’s. Eddie’s job with Capitol Pictures is maintaining film schedules and working with the talent for the numerous productions operating simultaneous at the studio, but his primary job is making problems disappear before they happen. On this particular day in the life of Eddie Mannix his headaches come one right after another, like preventing scandals from making their appearance on the front page of the gossip column, keeping directors happy and unaware with their production concerns, or finding kidnapped star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) before the their expensive religious epic crumbles.
The Coen Brothers build an impressive aesthetic quality here, commanding an atmosphere that feels and operates like a vintage Hollywood production complete with a variety of genres on display in the 1950’s. There is a highly choreographed water acrobatics scene featuring Scarlett Johansson, a strutting horse and singing cowboy moment with a scene stealing Alden Ehrenreich, and a big budget epic in the vein of “Ben-Hur” featuring George Clooney in full sword and sandal attire. But most memorable is a dancing sailor number featuring the talents of Channing Tatum. These are all amusing scenes that just sort of happen throughout the film, it’s not surprising though considering the Coen Brothers penchant for randomness. The cast is impeccable here, most playing their moments with a quirky seriousness that completely works for the film.
The narrative operates with many moving parts, loosely holding focus on a primary theme while feeling frequently like a bunch of short stories strung together with characters vying for their small piece of screen time. While this may not be too far off from the early Hollywood style of filmmaking, here it makes the film function more sporadic than coherent. Still, it’s strange that throughout a majority of the film this clutter of storylines never seems to play as distracting but instead composes a sly playfulness and off kilter comedic quality that showcases the motion-picture industry with all its self-imposed prestige and self-inflicted flaws. The primary story, a kidnapping plot, brings about a mysterious organization called “The Future” which allows the Coen Brothers opportunity to find their unorthodox stride late in the film.
The film belongs to Josh Brolin who always seems at his best and most comfortable in the care of the Coen Brothers. His character Eddie Mannix again falls in line with the theme of characters trying to find their place and purpose in this world, as he must choose between what is easy and what is right. It’s a simple premise played on multiple levels with numerous characters amidst an exercise of style and humor. “Hail, Caesar!” is a seemingly unrestrained effort from two of cinemas most unique voices.
3.75 out of 5.00