The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! follows Hollywood Fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he runs himself ragged dealing with all of the issues that plague famous 1950s Hollywood figures.
As a satire of Hollywood in the 1950s it works really well with George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock embodying the arrogantly charming megastar trope, Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle taking on the cowboy actor put out of his depth, Ralph Fiennes’ Laurence Laurentz playing the diva-like director with his “vision”, Scarlett Johansson’s DeeAnna Moran is the starlet with a secret and many others that would fill up an entire article to list.
The time period of the 50s is set well from the design of the sets to the costuming. Using Hollywood as the subject compliments the distinct artificial look of the whole thing. There are many moments where scenes from a fictional film being filmed seamlessly transition to the real world and it’s difficult to tell the difference. The obvious message being that life in Hollywood is as artificial as the films themselves. It’s a great looking film with a real sense of style that is complimented by the performances all conforming to the time period in a convincing way.
As with many narratives set in the 1950s America the specter of Communism hangs over everything with Baird Whitlock being held for ransom by a group of writers who never felt that they were paid fairly for services rendered. None of it is to be taken the least bit seriously as per the overall tone but it does help build up the time period in a way that doesn’t feel overblown. These scenes are more amusing than sinister with Whitlock developing Stockholm syndrome and being apparently brainwashed by the Communist philosophy. Clooney plays his scenes well and portrays a constant sense of naivety as to what goes on outside his limited circle.
The film is very light on story but Eddie Mannix remains the central figure in everything. Structurally it’s a collection of scenes edited together with him having limited interactions with various Hollywood figures as he solves their problems before moving on. It does make the film feel like it is meandering somewhat but I felt that it remained entertaining enough to hold my attention on the whole. The characters were all nicely larger than life and always provoked a laugh with the lunacy of their normal lives.
Josh Brolin is excellent as Eddie Mannix. He brings a lot of depth to what might otherwise be a thin character. From the opening minutes he was a man that I was rooting for and I enjoyed how constantly frustrated he was at having to babysit the Hollywood elite just to keep successful films on track. He has a character arc surrounding being headhunted by Lockheed to do a higher paid and less demanding job that would allow him to retire in a matter of years. This hangs over him throughout the film as he decides whether he wants an easier life or if he enjoys what he does enough to keep going with the high levels of stress associated with it.
There are lots of entertaining scenes such as Channing Tatum’s homoerotic dance number with a group of actors playing sailors. It was well choreographed and Tatum fully commits to it. Another great scene was Mannix consulting with a cross section of religious figures to gather feedback on whether Hail, Caesar! would offend religious Americans with its depiction of figures like Jesus. I mention this specifically because of the Star Trek connection with Robert Picardo playing a Rabbi and because it’s absolutely hilarious. Everything about it works from Josh Brolin’s performance to the stereotypical religious figures. It all works because everything is hyper real so stereotypical characters aren’t entirely out of place.
My major issue was the pacing. Many scenes dragged on with no real point to them. This is a clear consequence of the meandering and unfocused plot. There are many points where the film completely forgets to be about anything and the pace completely grinds to a halt as a result. It’s a minor issue and doesn’t happen often enough to be significant but it was noticeable.
Another issue is with the characterisation. I have no complaints about the ability of the actors to perform their characters but most of them only appear in really superficial ways and have one trait that is milked for more than its worth. Scarlett Johansson only tends to project the blunt attitude of her character for example. I get that the whole thing is supposed to be superficial but with Eddie Mannix being the one tasked with sorting it all out it would make sense for him to see more of these people than anyone else. I think if the focus had been on a small number of issues with more time spent on Mannix fixing them then the film would have been stronger for it.
A fun and entertaining satire on 1950s Hollywood that sets the time period well and impresses with the actor performances. The film is a little lacking in plot with uneven pacing and the characters are a bit thin on the ground but the whole thing works well enough for that not to be a significant issue.
- Josh Brolin’s performance
- some hilarious and entertaining scenes
- most of the cast being believable in their roles
- the uneven pacing
- thin characterisation