I’ve never been someone who obsessed over the Coen Brothers. To be completely honest the only films they’ve made that I’ve truly admired were Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998). I only liked Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men (2007) and I wasn’t too keen on their remake of True Grit (2010). I’ll be completely honest, though, when I saw that the Coen Brothers were making a film dedicated to the 1950s’ golden age of Hollywood filmmaking, well…
Hail, Caesar! (2016) boasts a star-studded cast however the true main characters are Josh Brolin and George Clooney. Other stars are sprinkled throughout the movie; but these two are without a doubt the main focus. What the film is, exactly, is a love letter from the Coen Brothers to 1950s Hollywood and it does so by focusing on Brolin’s character, a producer for Capitol Pictures named Eddie Mannix who is trying to keep his actor, Baird Whitlock (played by Clooney) in line because he’s a womanizing playboy who often has a hard time prioritizing his personal life and his acting career.
What the trailer for this movie advertises is that Clooney is kidnapped by a secret society called The Future and they hold him for ransom and it’s Brolin who needs to put the money together and get his star back so they can finish their grand production of (you guessed it) Hail, Caesar! These events certainly do happen in the movie; but in the Coen Brothers’ fashion, the main plot serves more as the B role of the movie as opposed to the A role which is this love letter to Hollywood. Which is very in fashion for the Coen Brothers to do. They like immersing viewers in a world or a time and letting them hold a magnifying glass over the one particular series of events in these characters’ lives and having the film wrap up in a very, “Life goes on,” kind of way.
After wrapping principal photography on my own short film as well as helping out on numerous film sets throughout my college career, believe me, this was a really awesome movie to see. It felt like I was in on a joke that had been going on since the early stages of filmmaking and from that aspect, it’s a very relatable experience. Even just taking all of the film history courses that I have and seeing on the big screen the meta, “This is how movies were made way back when,” aspect of it really made me have a smile on my face for the two hours the movie ran. However I fear that not everyone who sees this movie will be in on the joke. Sure, there are plot points and dialogue that keep viewers invested – along with performances from Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johannson, and Ralph Fiennes – it’s just that from an objective standpoint, the juice might not be worth the squeeze here for some viewers.
The difference between a movie like this and a movie like Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) is Tarantino’s film is a love letter to American classic westerns and 70mm analog film; but he doesn’t let that get in the way of making a very cool movie that takes influence from westerns and other grand roadshow productions from that era. What the Coen Brothers did is they put their love letter first and foremost, THEN their plot line. This is where a lot of opinions on the Coen Brothers become polarizing. There are certainly as many people out there that enjoy the Coen Brothers because they put their appreciation and atmosphere before their story as there are people who hate it. This go around, I enjoyed it – for personal reasons obviously. However I can’t ignore that when you strip away the Hollywood aspect of it and how relatable it can be for filmmakers and cinephiles everywhere, what we have in terms of plot and development is, for lack of a better term, average.
Hail, Caesar! is in no way a bad movie and I know it sounds like I’m slamming it; but it does have very funny moments and strong performances from Brolin and Clooney. This is just a personal preference for me in terms of prioritizing the story vs. the world the story takes place in. If you make movies or know Hollywood backwards and forwards, it’s a great time. If not, then you may want to turn a different direction.
What the Coen Brothers are preaching through it all is that filmmaking has undergone so much change throughout its tenure and it will continue to change as technology and society does. There are problems now that existed then and 50 or 60 years from now there will be problems that are occurring that will have been going on now. One thing that won’t change, however, is that people are still going to make movies and people are still going to watch them; and that is a fact, not some speculation.
Overall Rating: 7/10 – Good
If you’re into filmmaking or film history, you’re really going to enjoy this film. There are plenty of funny moments for people into making movies and not so into it. Brolin and Clooney are fantastic; but that doesn’t save them from a Coen Brothers plot that doesn’t want to overstep its boundaries and get in the way of what they were trying to say throughout the movie.
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