A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
I’ve never been a big fan of the Coen brothers. Their films are very hit and miss, although I did thoroughly enjoy their big-screen adaptation of Charles Portis’ “True Grit,” more so than the 1969 John Wayne version. With “Hail, Caesar!” though, I went in thoroughly expecting to roll in the aisles with laughter, after all, the trailers give the impression that the Coen brothers have made their first screwball comedy. Their previous efforts, “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” and “The Ladykillers” were far from funny, although they did have their moments. Alas, “Hail, Caesar!” is not a screwball comedy. Actually, the film doesn’t quite know what it is either, a drama, a comedy, a dramedy? And while the movie is brimming with a who’s who of Hollywood stars, all of who bring their A game, the movie never quite rises above satisfactory.
It is the 1950s and we are introduced to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the “Ray Donovan” of Hollywood, a fixer who keeps everyone and everything within his studio system, in check. When Hollywood’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), disappears from the set of the studio’s big-budget ancient Rome feature, “Hail, Caesar!,” Eddie steps in. Initially writing it off as one of Baird’s customary alcohol-fueled overnighters, Eddie receives a ransom note claiming that a group who call themselves “The future,” have Baird in their possession. In return for $100,000, they will release him and with “Hail, Caesar!” only a few days away from completion, the studio gives Eddie the money in exchange for Baird.
Along the way, Eddie discovers that the group are actually communists, with major ties to Hollywood and it is up to him and Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a young but enthusiastic matinée idol that he recruits, known primarily for his horse-riding and gun-shooting movie roles than his thespian abilities, to thwart The Future’s plans, recover Baird, and stop them from infiltrating Tinseltown.
The whole communist angle is played strictly for laughs. Actually, every situation that transpires in the movie is played for laughs but most of them miss the mark. From DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a top leading lady who is single and then announces that she is pregnant, something which will undoubtedly cause a scandal for the studio’s image, and which pressures Eddie and the studio’s legal counsel to devise various plans in regards to her adopting her own baby, in essence, avoiding the controversy of a pregnant, single Hollywood starlet and putting a more positive spin on it, to gossip columnist twins Thora Thacker & Thessaly Thacker (played by Tilda Swinton), who both state they have an inside source that claims Baird was kidnapped and are intransigent on running the story if Eddie won’t give them the opportunity to interview him personally, these ideas might sound funny on paper but regrettably, on the way from the page to the screen, they get lost in translation.
The overall atmosphere and feel of 1950s Hollywood is absolutely spot on. Each character embodies traits and characteristics indicative of the era, from their wardrobe, to the underlying creeping paranoia of McCarthyism, the movie is a visual splendor. And while the actors on display appear to be having fun, sadly, that does not translate too well to the screen. It felt like I was watching a home movie where everyone was laughing and wisecracking with each other but in order to get the joke, you had to be there. I guess the joke’s on us.
In theaters February 5th
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