Movie Review: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ (2nd Opinion)


Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum

Plot: Eddie Mannix is a fixer for a prominent Hollywood studio in the 1950s, spending his time preventing the studio and its stars from becoming scandals. During the short time the film takes place he must contend with a major star being kidnapped by Communists, a pregnant but unwed starlet and an untalented young actor who the studio wants to turn into their next leading man.

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Review: Before we get into the film proper, let’s talk about marketing. One of the most common mistakes made is selling a movie to the public is pitching the film you think people want to see instead of the movie you have. On paper the R-Rated superhero flick Deadpool is studio poison, yet the marketing for the film embraced it’s oddness and recognised what made it unique. The result? A record breaking box office smash hit with a sequel on the way. Compare that to Hail, Caesar!, a screwball comedy from the critically acclaimed Coen Brothers. The marketing for the film has focused not on the story, the style or the real life figure who inspired the movie but the A-List stars who are considered bankable. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes and Jonah Hill dominate the screen when in reality they appear as little more than cameos. Jonah Hill, whose name appears several positions above Tilda Swinton in the trailer, is in the movie for one scene and could’ve copied his entire dialogue onto the palm of his hand. Swinton plays two different roles in the movie, serves as the antagonists to the main character and got some of the biggest laughs from the house. He also made the poster, unlike two of the lead characters.

It’s little wonder that audiences have been scoring the film so low. Few people will be getting what they expected. If you bought a ticket because of Ralph Fiennes’ hilarious turn as a director in the trailer you’ll be disappointed to learn that you’ve seen 75% of his performance.

This isn’t the sole reason the movie might be getting mediocre reviews. The film has been loved by critics with the critical rating almost double the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a film that will certainly be appreciated by film buffs and critics above all, and it does expect some contextual knowledge of the studio system in the 50s, a frivolous period during which Hollywood competed with the downsizing of the power base, the introduction of television and the Red Scare infiltrating their writing rooms. With much of the story and comedy coming from this specific period in time it’s little wonder it hasn’t struck a chord with audiences throwing money at a swearing, hyper-violent superhero.

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Josh Brolin is on good form as Mannix, a character based on the real Eddie Mannix who was instrumental in managing some major Hollywood scandals. He’s given a rich role to play in an extravagant setting, yet plays it with a subdued nuance that works in contrast with the madness surrounding him. The entire cast is excellent, with newcomer Ehrenreich an absolute hoot as a befuddled singing cowboy who finds himself out of depth with the increased expectations on his career. Fiennes, Johansson, Clooney and Tatum are clearly having a ball playing up the old Hollywood diva archetype, each there to buy into their own publicity and participate in some truly memorable set pieces.

The Coens have gone the distance in recreating the film styles of the era, with each of the actor characters having their own turn in the spotlight. Johansson dons a mermaid suit to partake in a synchronised swimming spectacle while Tatum very surprisingly carries an extended song and tap dance routine. These side chapters of the film are plenty of fun to watch and one can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into recreating the fanciful studio productions of the time. Clooney is especially fun as the big star finding himself being swayed by his kidnappers ideals.

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Unfortunately the film ends with more of a whimper than a bang, not even leaving us with the talking points that A Serious Man did. It’s a funny screwball comedy of the type we don’t see any more, and it succeeds in that regard. It’s also backed by a great ensemble who are all on form. The poor marketing, lack of context for modern audiences and weak ending will see this effort from the Coens fade from screens to soon.

Being a movie buff who loved the humour and setting, I give it…

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

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