The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! is one of their most hilarious, absurd and grand films yet. What the film lacks in emotional depth is more than made up for in laughs and often stunning spectacle. Taking place in 1950’s Hollywood, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, the man who makes sure everything at fictional studio Capitol Pictures runs smoothly. His day to day work ranges from trying to rescue rumour-ridden star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from a kidnapping, to managing the pregnancy of starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson). While the subject matter could treated as a biopic in other hands, the Coen Brothers inject these stories with a silliness often bordering on parody.
It is actually this aspect of the historical period’s depiction which is one of the film’s strongest achievements. The Coens show both the beauty and craft of this period of Hollywood, while also highlighting its more outlandish and controversial sides. The respect for the period can be most clearly seen in the extended glimpses into the films in production. These sequences are crafted gorgeously, achieving a stunning replication of the films of the time. Particular highlights are of an underwater dance sequence led by Johansson’s character and an elaborate musical scene led by Channing Tatum. Both of these scenes succeed in not only emulating past features, but also becoming spectacular in their own right. The combination of these scenes with ones of lampooning the studio system’s tight control or its stars’ many hidden secrets creates a playful but fair representation of the time.
The stars themselves are another highlight of Hail, Caesar! The Coen’s have assembled a cast of appropriately huge actors for the film’s leads, but it’s perhaps the least known of them who stands out the most. Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic in the role of Hobie Doyle, an up-and-coming star whose charmingly kind earnestness is put in hilarious opposition to his awful acting. His scenes are consistently most packed full of laughs, but also give the film a slight bit of heart in the midst of mostly selfish and buffoonish characters. Brolin’s Mannix, however, shouldn’t go without praise in the midst of other louder characters. Brolin effectively carries the film. This is especially noticeable in his reactions to the surrounding events, from panicked disbelief to an exhausted rage.
The biggest fault to be found in the film is more up to personal taste, being that the film’s plot is somewhat aimless and meandering. While this has become a staple of the Coens’ work, the lack of focus can be off-putting for some. There is also a lack of emotional depth or characters to truly care for in the film, which again is not necessarily a criticism and is more a matter of the taste of the individual. With that said, Hail, Caesar! stands as another great feature from the Coen Brothers and is possibly their most hilarious yet.