The Coen Brothers are constantly adept at changing up their films in terms of mood, style, and genre. Sometimes their films venture into surrealist territory like in Barton Fink, A Serious Man, or more recently Inside Llewyn Davis. Typically, even with these films, the Coens stick to a consistent idea from film to film, with a clear cut conflict and leaving everything well balanced; unfortunately the Coens' newest film, Hail, Caesar! is one of their most uneven movies to date.
Taking place on the movie lot of Capitol Pictures (the same film company from Barton Fink), the film mainly follows the studio fixer and devout Catholic, Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin. We follow over two days of Mannix's life as he sets up romances between movies stars, watches dailies, conjures up fake adoptions, deals with directors, and does this all while filled with guilt for minute sins.
Throughout the film there are many religious connections to both Catholicism and the basis of religion in general. One scene in particular has four variations of religion debating the true meaning of God. While scenes such as this provide entertaining fare from its dialogue and ideas, it doesn't serve much of a purpose to the plot, which becomes a recurring theme of the movie.
Yes, the biggest issue with this film is that the Coens created yet another great slew of characters, however with so many, the film lacks focus on one coherent plot. Many big name actors such a Ralph Fiennes and Jonah Hill are on screen for pretty much ten minutes worth of screen time. Hill himself, I believe, has four lines in total.
These subplots take up about eighty percent of the movie, whilst the other chunk of it follows George Clooney as a befuddled and foolish movie star, a little too similar to his superior character in Burn After Reading. Thinking he was kidnapped, Clooney uncovers a communist underground of Hollywood writers, much akin to the true life story of the blacklist and writers sneaking communist ideals into film.
The film Clooney is working on is the aforementioned Hail, Caesar!, which plays out like a Ben-Hur rip off, especially with Clooney's character in the fake film meeting Jesus Christ. And while all this is going on, Scarlett Johansson's character is seeking a fake adoption for her baby, and a cowboy star is trying to transition to drama. If this film sounds as all over the place as I think it does, you see where I'm coming from.
The movie, all in all, feels like it's afraid to focus on just one story. Its far too sprawling to say the movie is all about Clooney or all about Brolin's character. One can argue its meant to just be a day on a movie lot, but its never clearly defined in this way. Much like how the Coens are in most interviews, the movie decides to end on a bizarre shrug. While there are a multitude of very funny and entertaining scenes, these parts don't make up such a memorable whole.