The 400-Word-Review: Hail, Caesar!
By Sean Collier
February 8, 2016
Few eras photograph quite as well as the Golden Age of Hollywood, which is excellent news for Tinseltown itself. Because few eras seem to be of as much interest to contemporary filmmakers as Los Angeles when the big studios were humming; Hollywood loves making, watching and awarding movies about movies, particularly if the whole operation is sepia-toned.
The news that the Coen Brothers are tangling with old Hollywood was exciting, particularly since the eminently talented screenwriters are on an incredible, ten-year hot streak. The assembled cast for Hail, Caesar! is filled with legitimate movie stars with classic silver-screen looks: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin and plenty more.
The pieces are all there. The movie just isn’t very good.
It’s not bad by any means, but it’s well below its own pedigree and the standard established by its creators. The clearest reason seems to be the script’s focus on Brolin’s character, studio fixer Eddie Mannix. A tireless addresser of ego-driven dilemmas, Mannix weaves from one film set to the next, never sleeping and rarely stopping at home; Hail, Caesar! is, roughly, a day-in-the-life picture of this character.
Unfortunately, he’s the least interesting character in the film. Johansson is more compelling as DeeAnna Moran, a faux-innocent starlet with an inconvenient pregnancy; Alden Ehrenreich is intriguing as Hobie Doyle, a Western star struggling to transition out of the genre; and George Clooney is the clear star of the film as Baird Whitlock, a top star kidnapped by a group of grey-haired communists while filming a Biblical epic.
Mannix can’t keep up, even with a dull subplot about his troubled personal life and an intriguing job offer from Lockheed Martin (fill in the commentary yourself). His case isn’t helped by a head-scratching early scene where he roughs up a misbehaving young actress — a nod to the onscreen conventions of the time, I suppose, but a tone-deaf one — but there’s very little to make clear why this, of all characters, drew the Coens’ focus.
Beyond that, it’s just not quite funny enough. The Coens’ humor has always been somewhat subtle (at least in their best comedies), but here, it often just misses the mark. It can be slightly unfair to evaluate films against their creators’ prior work — for that reason, I can say that Hail, Caesar! is not a bad film. But realistically, it’s a disappointing one.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark