Responsible for such modern classics as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen need little introduction. With a handful of Oscars and over a dozen highly-praised works behind them, the Coen brothers are well-versed in crafting thoughtful, multi-layered entertainment. Sure to please Coen fans and film buffs alike is their latest endeavor, Hail, Caesar!, which premieres this weekend.
Opening in a confessional booth, Hail, Caesar! follows movie studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, over the course of a day as he navigates through problems on-set and off. On this specific day, Mannix finds himself preoccupied with tracking down film star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped by a group called The Future. Mannix must round up the $100,000 ransom demanded from Whitlock’s kidnappers, all the while keeping tabloid journalists at bay, appeasing irksome actors and directors, and struggling to hide his smoking habit from his wife.
Mannix is played by the versatile Josh Brolin, who shines here as the well-intentioned studio exec with too much on his plate. Most of the film is dominated by Brolin, who pulls off his character with aplomb. Playing the rather daft Baird Whitlock is George Clooney, who spends much of the movie in wide-eyed bewilderment. Despite Clooney’s decent acting chops, it’s grating to see so much screen time devoted to one of Hollywood’s most overexposed actors.
It would have been far more gratifying to see more of the sweetly charming Hobie Doyle, played by Beautiful Creatures actor Alden Ehrenreich, or the hilarious director Laurence Laurentz, played by the affable Ralph Fiennes. Channing Tatum—who can’t seem to abandon his dancing roots, even here—is perfect as Burt Gurney, as is Tilda Swinton, who plays twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Other notable, but brief, appearances include Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.
In addition to an excellent cast, Hail, Caesar! features stellar cinematography. With much humor and flair, Hail, Caesar! pays homage to Hollywood’s golden era, relying on the movie-within-a-movie format to recall the glitz and glamour of yesteryear. Indeed, the movie touches on film noir, and has many tightly choreographed, colorful scenes that are reminiscent of classic musicals. Though the movie-within-a-movie adds a lot of visual impact and interest, it does feel like the overall plotline gets a bit muddled as a result, which isn’t helped by the multiple storylines happening throughout the film.
An amalgamation of quirk and slapstick, Hail, Caesar! also feels like esoteric comedy at times. There are plenty of laughs to be had, yet some audiences might find themselves alienated from the humor. Though the Coen brothers manage to pull it off, some of the plotlines are also admittedly absurd. Though ambitious, the movie veers away from the mainstream perhaps too much to be embraced by broader audiences. Ultimately, however, Hail, Caesar! offers mild, light-hearted entertainment that is a refreshing reprieve from the perfunctory noise and excess offered by standard big-budget pictures currently in cinemas.
Hail, Caesar! opens nationwide on Friday, February 5, 2016.