Eddie Mannix (John Brolin), a studio fixer in 1950s Hollywood, is having a rough day. He’s in the process of transitioning one of the studios young cowboys (Alden Ehrenreich) into a dapper, leading man when all of a sudden production on the studios biggest film, “Hail, Caesar!” (“a real prestige picture”), is brought to a halt when the films star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped. On top of it all he has to manage unexpected pregnancies, nosey gossip column journalists and the enticing offer of a new job in an exciting new future industry.
The Coen Brothers are masters of genre, whether it’s a taut thriller, period drama or wacky comedy, and their latest film “Hail, Caesar!” is certainly a prime example of this. The Coen’s have had trouble with audience reception with their last few film (mainly due to the poor marketing or a lack of audience understanding) however, similar to their other recently overshadowed films (such as “Burn After Reading”), “Hail, Caesar!” showcases The Coen’s doing what they do best, entertaining. The key to every Coen film is the dialogue and the characters that spout it and here they both pop off the screen with an almost childish delight managing to weave in both heart and those bizarre, off-beat comedic moments The Coen’s are known for crafting a wonderful snapshot of a time and place in Hollywood’s history that the siblings are clearly fans of.
While the film treads similar ground to their previous masterpiece “Barton Fink”, “Hail Caesar” is it’s own beast entirely, focusing on Brolin’s studio fixer, a more accessible and likeable character than Fink, while cleverly using a biblical epic to help draw a Christ like allegory as he works tirelessly for the betterment of others and his own self-sacrifice. Brolin’s performance is the soul of the film and he knows it. It’s the first time he’s played a likeable character for The Coen’s and he’s clearly relishing the opportunity, taking a character that could have easily been portrayed as gruff or abrasive he instead imbues Mannix with a warmth and kindness that not only makes other characters in the film trust him but the audience as well.
If Brolin’s character is the soul of the film than Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy turned leading man, Hobie Doyle, is the unquestionably the heart. In a film populated by big name stars and Coen regulars Ehrenreich comes out of nowhere, stealing the film with what is easily one of the most memorable Coen characters in years. The pure innocence he manages to convey as a man who is clearly a fish out of water working in the studio system is a joy to watch and his interplay with both Brolin and Ralph Fiennes (as his put upon director) are the highlights of the film.
Although “Hail, Caesar!” is incredibly fun to watch it’s not without it’s flaws. Falling into the trap of some of their other films, the end result of the narrative feels somewhat lacklustre, leaving the audience slightly unsatisfied despite the fun and frivolity that was had getting there. While it doesn’t have lofty ideas, heavy themes or a powerful narrative to help push it into the company of other Coen greats like “Fargo” or “A Serious Man” it is extremely entertaining and a welcome addition to the Coen Brother’s canon.
8.5 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.