Joel and Ethan Coen (collectively known as the Coen Brothers) are two of the finest living filmmakers working today. Since the 1980s, these auteurs have made their mark on cinema history by supplying audiences with dark comedies and dramas that are not only entertaining but thought-provoking and very smart. Their style is unmatched by any other writer or director and they almost always hit the mark with expert detail and exquisite precision. From 1984’s Blood Simple up until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, they definitely know what they’re doing and each film is brilliant evidence of that. Unfortunately however, their latest effort, the tongue-in-cheek period comedy Hail Caesar! doesn’t live up to the hype and is one of the Coen Brothers’ weaker efforts. It tries hard and does contain very humorous bits of comedy sprinkled throughout but is a lackluster film at best and not one the Coen Brothers’ better entries.
Hail Caesar! takes place in Hollywood during the 1950s and focuses on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a film executive at the fictional Capitol Pictures, where he is deeply invested in the personal lives of his movie stars, so much so that he tries to avoid public relations fiascos at any cost. When his biggest star, oblivious Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), gets kidnapped while filming a sword-and-sandals epic, all hell breaks loose and Mannix must secure ransom money and keep the abduction out of the media. What follows is Mannix running all over Hollywood, tangling with some of his studio’s biggest names and getting deeper and deeper into the kidnapping plot which is implemented by a mysterious group known simply as “The Future”.
What basically saves this film from being a total flop is the intelligent script penned by the Coens. That and the immense star power from the film’s cast, which includes Brolin, Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich (a singing cowboy actor), Ralph Fiennes (a snooty director), Jonah Hill (an uptight accountant), Scarlett Johansson (a Esther Williams-like actress), Frances McDormand (a quirky editor), Tilda Swinton (in a dual role as twin sister gossip columnists), Channing Tatum (a song and dance actor), and Christopher Lambert (an offbeat foreign director). This colorful cast is what prevents this film from being a total dud and audiences will be delighted to see each of these actors stretch their legs and try their hand at something slightly new. Channing Tatum, for one, has some clever moments as a pretty boy actor who isn’t ashamed of being a little silly. He definitely steps it up a notch here.
While Hail Caesar! isn’t an instant classic or even one of the Coen Brothers’ greatest hits, it is a cute little picture that will put a smile on your face and show you a side of Hollywood we rarely get to see these days. The 1950s are actually represented very well here and Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix is the epitome of the 50s tough guy. All of the characters in his world need fixing and he’s the one to fix them. This is the Coens’ first film in three years and it’s a real shame that their followup to Inside Llewyn Davis is significantly better. However it is fun at times and presents the Coen’s signature screenwriting in a fun and occasionally intelligent manner.