Hail, Caesar! - The Riles Review
The Coen Brothers were pioneers of bizarre dark comedy since the late 80s. Raising Arizona is a gem, as well as your usual suspects (Fargo, the Big Lebowski, etc.), and the unusual suspects (The LadyKillers was actually pretty good.) Hail, Caesar! is a lighter fare for the Coen Brothers, with lots of wit and weird characters as you’d expect. It’s a great film with only a couple of holes in the Coen Brothers’ formula holding it back from being a masterpiece.
Hail, Caesar! tells a fictional story about the real life Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). When the biggest star at the studio (George Clooney) goes missing from set, it’s safe to assume that he’s just gone on another bender. But there is much more mystery and intrigue afoot, much more for Mannix to wade through.
The 1950s, the decade of Mannix’s rule, is the setting for the film, as he stomps around a movie studio churning out multiple films of varying genre. The setting is easily one of the best parts of the film. It’s all very colourful and vivid and true to the era. As the movie progresses and Mannix parades more and more between the various film sets, the line between these sets and the reality outside of the movie studio blurs, and it all turns into one outrageous satire.
Even with the strong setting and characters that support the movie, the plot never really goes anywhere. Arguably this was probably the point, but because it’s so relaxed throughout you never really emotionally invest and this could’ve made the film dangerously throwaway. However, the story is loose enough to put all the characters in position for jokes, but strong enough to maintain a drive to a conclusion. There is a connected allegory running underneath it all, although sometimes it becomes a bit confused and the end of the film tries but doesn’t quite cap it off, but it is there, and it is clever.
The dialogue in the film is snappy and sharp. One scene sees Mannix at a table with gentlemen representing different faiths, all discussing the depiction of Jesus in a movie script. It’s rapid-fire and the best example of the way the rest of the movie is written. The whole movie is able to hold that standard of comedy and writing, save for one scene with Jonah Hill. His only moment in the film is wasted with a weak punch line.
The ensemble cast is one of the greatest assets of the film. Forget all the big names of it all, but they all do such a fantastic job of creating these borderline caricatures of the American film industy in the 50s. They’re all hilarious and interesting, all juxtaposing the movie sets they inhabit hilariously. Alden Ehrenreich is a standout as Hobie Doyle, a cowboy typecast, suddenly thrust out of his depth with a starring role in a period drama. Josh Brolin does a good job of being the everyman Mannix of the 1950s, but he’s constantly overshadowed by whoever else is on screen. George Clooney is really funny, one of his best comedy characters since The Men Who Stare At Goats. Channing Tatum is brilliant, and his musical sequence is very goofy, possibly the best sequence in the film. It’s just a shame that the rest of the cast don’t get as much time on screen, because everyone involved is equally as good. And there are some killer names on that list. Christopher Lambert and Wayne Knight only have a single scene each, and Clancy Brown is stuck in the background behind George Clooney on the film set of their Roman epic. Luckily, Tilda Swinton comes and goes quite regularly to great effect, and even Dolph Lundgren was present at one point, only to disappear just as quickly. The cast is huge and talented, and when they are participating, it’s hilarious.
It’s witty, smart and as funny as you’d expect from the Coen Brothers when they’re taking on both writing and directorial efforts. And while it’s not the wittiest, smartest or funniest movie they’ve ever made, it’s definitely close, and definitely worth the time.
Hail, Caesar! 7.5/10