Hail, Caesar! is the latest from the Coen Brothers, and while it is funny and entertaining from start to finish it might have you asking what it all meant at the end (a common Coen paradox).
Hail, Caesar! follows 36 hours in the life of studio “producer” Eddie Mannix, as he navigates a series of issues around his backlot. He has a missing movie star, a ransom for his return, an unwed pregnant starlet, all while trying to launch a western star into more “serious” pictures. There is also an expiring offer from Lockheed on Mannix’s desk, that would get him out of the studio rat race and financially secured for life.
That’s it for plot, but Hail, Caesar! doesn’t need a plot to keep moving forward because the Coen’s make almost every scene so damn entertaining. That’s also not to say the film does build, it’s constantly laying the pieces for payoff after payoff, then all of a sudden, in the final act, everything starts to come together. You could argue the film is too disjointed, but when the Coens can execute a perfect scene like the one in the editing bay that simultaneously gets laughs on its own regard, gets a laugh by playing with your anticipation, and gets a laugh when it finally pays off the reason we are there in the first place, with a character that we’ve never met before, I think you can easily argue back that the Coens knew exactly what they are doing.
The film is odd though, and will have you wondering what the heck is going on more than a couple of times. Most of this has to do with the kidnappers of Baird Whitlock and their political intentions, but ultimately it ends up being a long-winded joke about how stupid and ignorant supposedly brilliant communists can be too. Where those scenes with Baird and his captors require a little more brain power to keep up, the Coens balance it out with a ton of material that you can just sit back and enjoy. Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson both star in their own musical numbers, and they help break up Mannix’s day while also giving him a little something to do too. They are also both fantastic, with Tatum’s number in particular being the highlight of the film, a song and dance number about closeted gay sailors singing about how “sad” they will be that there will be no women when they ship out. Great staging and choreography across the board. Johansson doesn’t get to sing, but she gets to ham it up in a synchronized swimming number before unleashing a classic 50’s bad girl accent.
Clooney is delightfully silly as Baird, and he is a joy to watch as he bounces off anyone he encounters in the film. I just love watching Clooney play like he is all knowing and enlightened, and I can’t wait to watch his scenes again when I’m a little less mystified by what was going on in his scenes. Alden Ehrenreich is a revelation as Hobie Doyle, a western star thrown into the lion’s den of the studio’s top director. His southern accent is delightful, but every look, smile and attempt to be proper in the face of his struggles was comic gold. Super charming too, wish we got even more of him. Tilda Swinton pops in like a bat out of hell on a couple of occasions, Frances McDormand is incredible as the editor in that aforementioned scene and Ralph Fiennes is wonderful bouncing off Ehrenreich as his director trying to make him an ACTOR!
Josh Brolin stars at the center as Eddie Mannix, and he is a calm rock at the core, until he isn’t. When he isn’t, he is usually playing it for laughs and getting them as Brolin is almost so good you don’t even notice him anymore. Mannix’s arc is what leaves the viewer a little confused at the end, but when you look back at the film you can see where his head’s at. He’s looking for some divine guidance for both his major motion picture and his life decisions and he ultimately gets to be the punch line that you can twist religion to mean whatever you want it to mean. The Coen’s seem to be laughing at a lot of institutional philosophies in this film, which is a relief from using it to smite down the innocent like some of their previous efforts.
Hail, Caesar! is another entertaining entry from the Coens and I can only imagine it is going to grow with future viewings. The cast is fantastic from top to bottom, as you will find yourself wishing you got more of everyone in the movie. Like many Coen Brothers’ films, you might feel like you didn’t quite get it, but Hail, Caesar! will stick with you and you will want to see it again. It’s the Coen Brothers, go already.