#REVIEW: “HAIL, CAESAR!”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
How do you properly describe the work of Oscar-winning duo Joel and Ethan Coen? While their Films often deal in nostalgia and faith, each one is different from the next. They are extremely hard to compare next to each other, and even their best work comes off as polarizing to major audiences. After their underrated near-masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis, I was expecting big things from Hail, Caesar! But knowing the Coens, I should have known to never go in with any sort of expectation.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a “Hollywood fixer” working for Capital Pictures in the 1950s. He is the one the studio relies on to clean up all of the messes. When superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears off the set of the biblical blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, it is up to Mannix to get him back.
Hail, Caesar! is a day-in-the-life throwback filled with some genuinely fun and silly moments. We get a taste of multiple wildly different Films Mannix visits on the Capital lot, each more elaborate than the next. They are shown in the Trailers, but they are absolutely glorious when they are extended on the big screen. They look perfect for the era and the details are truly extraordinary. The Coens explore some of these ideas and add some of their own meta-commentary, leading to some wicked satire on the ancient Hollywood system that has practically gone extinct by today’s standards. It goes without saying that these are the best parts in the entire Film.
But the rest of the Film around these moments is a truly mixed bag. We never really get to know Mannix outside of his daily confession ritual, and we only get a taste of the eccentric personalities of the characters he runs into. The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis had similar structures involving one main character and a large cast of supporting characters, but both of those Films focused on their reluctant “hero” for their entirety. Hail, Caesar! seems to focus on three: Mannix, Whitlock and rising western star Hobie Doyle (scene-stealer Alden Ehrenreich), but never truly emphasizes what they are doing at any time. They all just seem to bumble haphazardly through each scene.
The supporting cast is massive to say the least: Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum (doing his best Gene Kelly), Tilda Swinton (as competing gossip columnist twins), Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Alison Pill, Fisher Stevens, David Krumholtz, Wayne Knight, a narrating Michael Gambon and a host of other character actors you will immediately recognize. Each only get about a scene or two (almost the entirety of Hill’s scene is in the Trailer), but they each leave a mark on the Film.
I wanted a lot more from Hail, Caesar!, but it is still an enjoyable Film. It is a farce first and foremost, and it does its satire quite well. The films within the Film are a genuine joy to behold, but the story around them is quite weak. Watch for the fun and nostalgia of an era long forgotten, but leave any and all expectations at the door.
Universal Pictures Canada release HAIL, CAESAR! in theatres on Friday, February 5, 2016.