Hail, Caesar! (PG-13) ★★1/2

Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill star in "Hail, Caesar!" Photo Credit: Working Title Films
Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill star in
“Hail, Caesar!” Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

“Hail, Caesar!” Salutes Hollywood’s Past 

The 1950s is the post-Golden Age period for when the studio system that dominated the movie industry was breaking down, television was offering people entertainment alternatives, and the Red Scare resulted in Hollywood blacklist division. The Coen brothers’ latest film, Hail, Caesar! is a comedy set in this era and centers around a film studio “fixer” who tries to keep his stars out of trouble and movies from tanking.

Although it is not the brothers’ best work, it still features their trademark writing style and humor. It is an interesting look at the time when Hollywood was trying to preserve its lofty place in American culture in changing times.

The plot has a number of seemingly unconnected storylines, but they all center on the main character Eddie Minnix (Josh Brolin, Sicario, 2015) who we first meet confessing to a priest. He admits that he lied to his wife about smoking cigarettes before describing his job struggle, which seemed to be leading him to smoke again. After leaving confession very late at night, he heads over to a photographer’s house to break-up a private photo shoot with a starlet who is under contract at the film studio where Minnix works at as a “fixer.”

The next day, Minnix is working on the studio lot and has to deal with a wide range of personalities and issues that threaten the studio. First, Minnix meets with a group of religious leaders to see if the studio’s upcoming big historical epic, Hail, Caesar! (a Ben-Hurr rip-off) would not offend any specific religious groups. After being reassured that the film will not insult the religious community, Minnix then deals with the fact that his lead actor, Baird Whitlock, (George Clooney, Tomorowland, 2015) has been kidnapped by secret group of communists working in Hollywood. He then has to handle DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson, Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015), the star in an upcoming musical who is pregnant. She’s looking to avoid the scandal of having an out of wedlock child and needs creative solutions. As icing on the cake, for an upcoming drama, Minnix deals with esteemed director Lawrence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes, Spectre, 2015) who is angry that the studio saddled him with the actor, Hobie Doyle. Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, Running Wild, 2015), who specializes in Westerns and cowboy stunts, is struggling to deliver the eloquent dialogue due to a heavy accent and Minnix is questioning his talents. Outside of the inner turmoil within his talent, Minnix is also constantly fending off two rival gossip columnists who want nothing more than to break a scandal story before the other despite being twin sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton, Trainwreck, 2015). On top of his movie headaches, Minnix is contemplating an attractive job offer from Lockheed Martin. Now, Minnix must decide whether he wants to find a way to defuse all of the studio’s problems or seek job security and the chance to work for a “real business” without worrying about babysitting movie stars and constant chaos.

As one would expect from the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! is a solid comedy with great acting and writing. Josh Brolin does an excellent job as a no-nonsense Hollywood “fixer” having to deal with the ridiculous antics from his movie stars. George Clooney shows he has comedic range, particularly when his character, a somewhat impressionable film star, is being lectured about the merits of communism by his captors. Channing Tatum shows he can do more than stripping with an impressive tap dance scene. Along with these performances, the rest of the ensemble, which includes several cameos from previous Coen works, does an excellent job of recreating the era and providing laughs.

Throughout their writing, the Coen brothers also provide plenty of their trademark clever dialogue. However, some viewers may lack patience with certain scenes that don’t seem to serve a purpose, even though they connect in the end. Also, the movie’s main shortcoming is that it does not always walk the line between a satire and a screwball comedy, which may not appeal to casual fans of the Coen brothers and sometimes takes away from the clever dialogue. Despite the fluctuating tone of the movie, ardent fans of the Coen brothers and those with patience for a non-traditional plot will appreciate the acting and humor in this film, but it’s probably not for everybody.

The Bottom-Line? Fans of the Coen brothers should rent this comedy, but Hail, Caesar! may not appeal enough to the non-hardcore fans.

Cast:  Josh Brolin (Eddie Minnix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Tilda Swinton (Thora/Thessaly Thacker), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnn Moran), Jonah Hill (Joseph Silverman)

Credits: Directed and written by Ethan and Joel Coen

Studio: Universal Pictures

Run Time: 106 minutes

Jessica Aymond © February 5, 2016