A new Coen Brothers movie (“Hail, Caesar!”) is OUT which means I’m immediately IN the theaters to watch it.
Seriously anything by these two has my attention and from the trailers I was super excited to see it. The story is about a Hollywood “fixer” named Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) and all the trials and tribulations that he goes through to keep scandals out of the studio’s way. The main one centering around the studio’s most famous actor being kidnapped and held for ransom.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4
First, let’s go over the good. The directing and visual look is top-notch for the most part (more about that later). The acting is great; everyone was perfect for their role (George Clooney playing the idiot for the 4th time in a Coen Brothers’ film) and I even wanted to research some of the lesser known actors when I got home as they all impressed me. I’ll get more into this in the Entertainment Value section, but the film is also funny.
Now for a comedy this all sounds like they hit the right points, however I have to admit with the film as a whole I was kinda disappointed. First the minor problem with the visuals. This is a tribute to old Hollywood and the films of that time. However, the scenes of the movies within this movie normally don’t look any different from the “real” world. If I was channel surfing I probably wouldn’t realize these were movies within movies. The aspect ratio changes a few times, but it’s inconsistent like they forgot or just didn’t care. It’s cool to see some, like Scarlett Johansson’s Busby Berkeley-ish movie with the swimmers or Channing Tatum’s musical sailor movie doing moves and stunts even more impressive than the actual film they’re parodying. But I would have like to have seen them try to truly replicate those films. I admit this is a nitpick that is my problem and most of the audience members won’t notice or care, it’s just how I am.
So now for the big thing, the overall theme of the film which is… I don’t know. I spent a good deal of the film trying to get a hold of what was it all about. Mannix is our main character and has an arc, but all the rest… not so much and their roles in the film itself are not really there. We have a cowboy actor forced into an elegant sophisticated movie, but is so unbelievably miscast. An actress who is pregnant, but not married and how that needs to be hidden for the studio’s image. George Clooney being captured and the ransom plot that affects the whole production’s budget. And finally the dealing with Tilda Swinton’s double role as a reporter separately searching for scoops. And none of them really go anywhere important or insightful. As I said, this is essentially a day-in-the-life-of plot. we see firsthand all of the crazy crap Mannix has to endure so the plot mainly exists to get us to each scene with the different characters doing their own thing. As a result it causes the film to feel unfocused and lacking a meaning. Yes Mannix’s subplot is about being offered another job and having to decide if he wants to leave all of this behind but none of the stories (from what I could tell) have any bearing on this. He learns nothing by interacting with these characters. There are tons of interesting characters like the studio’s editor played by Frances McDormand (and looking almost unrecognizable) but I really have no idea why she’s in the movie other than I assume it’s nice to work with her. I spent a good chunk of the film analyzing the possible symbolism of the fact we never see anyone higher in command than Mannix, no studio heads or anything.
There are a lot of scenes that seem like they’re going to lead to something; like an early meeting with some Christian and Jewish figure heads to discuss if the script “passes muster” and I tried to see if the film maybe was going to say something about religion and its relationship with Hollywood but nope. Then there’s the kidnappers. This film takes place before the Red Scare where many innocent people in the business lost their jobs because they were suspected to be communists or have communist leanings. And I’m really not sure what the film’s position is on them. They seem to be portraying them as bad-guys, but this is so weird as most any Hollywood film made nowadays that discusses the subject, comes down very hard that what Hollywood and the Government were wrong in how they treated them. Maybe that’s my liberal brain being played with, but I honestly couldn’t tell if they were condemning them or not. Even the main character, Eddie Mannix is possibly a real guy. There was a Hollywood fixer named Joseph “Eddie” Mannix (he was even played by Bob Hoskins in “Hollywoodland”) but these are fictional events/movies in a fictional studio so I’m not sure if the idea is just that he’s named the same way as a tribute or he’s supposed the be the real person in this made-up story. You may be thinking, “Eric you’re thinking too much about a comedy, maybe that’s part of the joke; that there is no grand statement or point to the film?” After all one of their earlier films can be described like that, “Burn After Reading.” However in that film the ending ties the randomness and pointlessness up perfectly, meaning it was all building up to one joke in the end. This film doesn’t have that, it just is. A day-in-the-life-of kind of story is fine, it’s just that the lack of theme to give it meaning makes it just a slightly above average movie. It’s like how I felt about “Crimson Peak,” it’s an alright movie but for the talent involved I expect a great film, so I end up feeling disappointed when I only get average one.
Entertainment Value – 3.5
Now from what I described about the plot you’d expect the only way to salvage the film would be in its comedy and to a degree you’re right. I can’t hate this film, I did overall enjoy myself. It’s funny, but not knee slappingly so. However, for some viewers they may not laugh at all and will probably dislike it. For a distraction it was just suitable, which is why the lack of a theme messes it up. If this film had the exact plot with all the same problems mentioned earlier but was hilarious from start to finish that would be fine, but the jokes are all mostly only chuckle worthy. There is a nice connection to “Barton Fink” with the studio being the same from that film, Capitol Pictures. That’s cool for Coen Bros. fans, but again it’s the sort of thing I doubt most audiences will care about. This is almost like the reverse of Spaceballs, where that film had amazing entertainment and rewatchability value but technicals were only so-so; this film was incredibly well made but only decent in those other two fields.
Rewatchability – 3
I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t plan on re-watching this movie, but on the other hand I feel Coen Bros. films kinda require that. I wouldn’t at all be against seeing this again. Who knows maybe the next time things will click for me.
- Entertainment Value
Not the Coen Brothers' best film, but a decent one. It could have been great but lacks meaning to give much of a viewership outside of film history fans. Despite its flaws, the acting and directing does make it a fun experience and can be enjoyed for that. However if you're looking for more, then this is probably not the film to see. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.