The Coen brothers strike again, but this time not quite as hard.
Movie Review #1,071
Distributed by Universal Pictures. Comedy, Mystery. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking. Released February 5, 2016. Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.
“Hail, Caesar!” is quirky and surreal, like any Coen brothers movie. If you’ve enjoyed the Coens’ work, you’ll likely find their newest to be sufficiently entertaining, if far from perfect. However, this isn’t exactly the best starting place if you’re not familiar with the Coens. I might suggest visiting their older work, such as “Fargo” or “The Big Lebowski” before viewing their newest, which, at best, is acceptable and, at worst, is uninteresting.
The film satirizes the moral scrutiny that impounded Hollywood during the 1950s. Back then, whenever a possible scandal would arise, it was the job of a “fixer” to make sure the public didn’t hear about it. “Hail, Caesar!” focuses on a real-life fixer named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is trying to hide two particular scandals. One involves Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of a “Ben-Hur”-like epic called “Hail, Caesar!” (hence the title) who, after being drugged by extras during the production of one scene, has been kidnapped. The other scandal involves DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an unmarried New York actress who has unexpectedly become pregnant while in the filming stage of her new movie.
However, that’s not a full encapsulation of the plot. Somewhere around 30 minutes in, “Hail, Caesar!” begins to veer off-course, and eventually, the story turns into one big, convoluted mess. Watching it all go down is like being on a road trip with someone who’s first headed to Indiana, but then gets distracted from his route and goes through Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia, before finally running out of gas and realizing that he’s now stranded and can no longer make his way to Indiana. That said, if ever a film with ADHD there was, “Hail, Caesar” is one, because, because: Many characters are added to the story throughout the movie, knotting the story so many times that we just about give up on trying to follow it. Joel and Ethan Coen, on the slight chance that you’re reading this, why sacrifice a comprehensive storyline for the sake of having a large A-list cast?
That cast is hit-and-miss. Josh Brolin is great as Mannix, but he’s also playing the same sort of character he’s been playing for years. A charismatic, straight-talking, tough-guy role like Mannix is othing outside of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, George Clooney isn’t the most compelling lead. As far as I’m concerned, he just looks like some actor in a suit, which, by the way, looks a bit stupid on him. Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, is great as the feisty, unwed New York actress. Her lines are ostentatiously written, and her delivery is hilarious. But perhaps the peak of the cast is Alden Ehrenreich. He plays a young, heartthrobby actor, who in turn plays a singing cowboy in a movie called “Lazy Ol’ Moon”. In its technical areas, the movie doesn’t particularly do the best job of bringing us back to the period it covers, but Ehrenreich’s performance helps out a bit with that.