With outlandish dance and swim sequences, far-reaching plot lines and plenty of laughter, Hail, Caesar! marks the return of Ethan and Joel Coen after a three-year hiatus. The comedy-drama-musical stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and many more stars that only the Coen Brothers and a handful of others could attract. The film relies heavily on laughs and quirky characters, though it is light on story and plot as it explores the life of the original Hollywood fixer.
This movie follows the day to day triumphs and tribulations of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a character based and named after the first Hollywood fixer who ran Metro-Goldwyn Meyer in the ’50s. Hail, Caesar! tracks Mannix’s life as he deals with everything from celebrity pregnancies, kidnappings, movie budgets, job offers and a crazy set of twin reporters. Most pressing, however, is the kidnapping of famed movie star Baird Whitlock (masterfully portrayed by Clooney), in the midst of shooting a Roman epic about finding Jesus Christ. Mannix is also forced to deal with the foolish cowboy Hobie Doyle, played by Alden Ehrenreich, and preventing a publicity crisis by finding a husband for the newly pregnant DeAnna Moran (Johansson). While on this journey we meet characters, each one of whom is more absurd than the next, although with each one’s lack of contribution to the story their addition becomes tedious by the ho-hum finale.
Although not specified as a portrayal of the real Mr. Mannix, the film does bare multiple similarities to the real man. The actual tale of Mr. Mannix is one the original Hollywood fixer — think a 1950s Olivia Pope and in Hollywood instead of Washington, D.C., who worked with stars such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. His multi-purpose job included monitoring movie budgets, spying on studio heads, and he is said to have read every telegram sent through Western Union traffic, according to E. J. Fleming’s The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine.
Hail, Caesar! will struggle to find an audience come its early February release, a release date that acknowledges the lack of economic and critical acclaim expected especially after a
last-second move from Christmas, where it would have qualified for the current awards season. While fans of the Coen brothers will undoubtedly show up and enjoy the niche humor and characters, those expecting a 21 Jump Street reunion with Hill and Tatum will be disappointed. Purposefully resembling the films of the mid-20th century, Hail Caesar! often uses humor that only a specific audience can understand and appreciate — communist writers in Hollywood, reminiscent of the Academy Award-nominated film Trumbo, the building of the atomic bomb, as well as a thoroughly amusing discourse between four religious heads about the role of Jesus Christ in their respective religions.
After seeing the film, one is left to wonder if by removing the various celebrity cameos the film would even be successful comedically for laughs are often drawn from the quirkiness and sheer shock of the characters, such as Tatum playing a tap dancing sailor. If one is expecting a film that resembles the trailer in any way shape or form, they will be disappointed, for the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock is only another situation among many that Mr. Mannix is dealing with during the movie. Many scenes throughout the trailer are, in fact, the only scenes the celebrities displayed are in, with Hill, Alison Pill and Frances McDormand in the film for only one scene each.
The film ultimately leaves the viewer unsatisfied, as the use of comedy substituting plot is only enjoyable for so long. The Coens also fail to take the opportunity for a climactic finish and instead focus on small side characters whose overall storylines truly never cross to fulfillment. While a good time, Hail, Caesar! does not rank well for the Coen Brothers whose works like The Big Lebowski. No Country For Old Men and Fargo have been immortalized in film history. Ultimately, fans of the duo won’t be too disappointed, for the film does deliver countless moments that remind you why the Coen Brothers are so extraordinary.