Hail, Caesar!  is the seventeenth feature film from writer/director duo Joel and Ethan Coen boasting an all-star cast including the likes of Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and many, many, many more. Set in the 1950’s, the film follows a studio fixer as he struggles to keep control of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
“Et tu, Coen?” There comes a time in all great director’s careers when a production is released to divisive responses. Even more so there’s the inevitability that after 30 years of making films some projects just aren’t going to land with the same heft as others. Thus is the case with the Coen’s latest venture. It’s quite possibly the weakest out of their filmography, with aspects scattered throughout that lend to the style we are all familiar with, but mostly being a film seemingly crafted by any other director. Granted a lesser Coen film is still better than many others, and there’s still plenty of entertainment value in its sub two-hour runtime, but the structure and content are whimsical and subpar. It’s a goofy, scattered kind of comedy, full of love for old school Hollywood yet lacking in any kind of depth about anything else.
“Squint against the grandeur!” Heading this impressive cast is Josh Brolin in quite a wonderful performance. Ultimately this story is about him, a Hollywood studio fixer, maintaining the craziness of big stars as personal lives and production issues pile on one after another. The biggest issue is when George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock is kidnapped and held for ransom by a group called The Future. Amongst the mayhem, the film strings what are ultimately sketch bits paying homage to different aspects of the film era which incorporate the large cast of characters. These moments barely lend themselves to the story at large but are ultimately pieces that all add up to the weight that Brolin’s Eddie Mannix has on his shoulders in his job. We’re treated to hat tips to westerns, dramas, aquatic pictures, and in the absolute highlight of the film: a sailor musical number led by Channing Tatum. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the highlight of the film because it’s ridiculously funny and Channing Tatum is in a silly role or anything like that, this is actually a masterfully choreographed musical number with fantastic tap dancing and great lyrics. Maybe the Coen’s next outing should be a musical by way of Gene Kelly; that could be something special indeed.
“Would that it were so simple.” The detail in which the era is presented is near perfect. The ideologies, the set pieces, the manners in which things are relayed and handled all work convincingly. The story is ultimately simple, following a man who is torn between what’s right and what’s easy. There’s a strong enough religious influence through the film as one might expect from the Coen’s, but it’s surface level at best with the rest of the messages being sent. There’s little room for subtext, for deep philosophical ideals, for cleverly hidden aspects to be discovered upon repeat viewings. It’s as straightforward and easy to follow as anything any other storytellers could produce. That’s not to say it’s bad, but fans of the directors may find disappointment due to high expectations. In the end, that isn’t quite fair, because Hail, Caesar! is fun and charming in its own right. This may not be their magnum opus, but it’s an entertaining film worth watching, and sometimes that’s all one needs when going to the cinema.