'Hail, Caesar!' should appeal to most film junkies
PHOTO BY MIKE ZOSS PRODUCTIONS
Where is it playing?: Parks Plaza
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $7.50
What's it worth?: $6.00
The Coen brothers (Fargo; The Big Lebowski; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; No Country for Old Men; True Grit) helm this new farce about a day in the life of 1950s Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who works to keep the biggest stars in line. But when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears, it may be a problem even the fixer can’t fix. (106 min.)
Glen: This satire of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age seems mostly about ripping the artifice off its shiny surface to reveal how the sausage gets made, and it’s not pretty. DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), the sparkling beauty at the center of a Busby Berkeley-style water ballet movie, is a coarse, twice-divorced starlet with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy the studio hopes to cover up with another arranged marriage. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is a Gene Autry-type singing cowboy and trick rider the studio decides to groom for a more urbane drawing room drama, except he sounds like a hick and can’t understand the director’s elevated diction, and hence can’t take direction. And then, we have the central plotline about megastar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), starring in a sword-and-sandal epic about Jesus Christ, except it’s told from the perspective of a Roman general who comes to admire the son of God, played by an unseen actor named Todd, who’s not sure if he’s a principal actor or an extra, and hence doesn’t know which craft services lunch he’s supposed to get. At the center of it all is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), whose job it is to keep the actors working and the competing gossip columnists—sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton)—from publishing unflattering stories. There are a lot of balls in the air in this film, and I wish I could say the Coen brothers juggle them with aplomb, but the truth is, despite all the star power, this film feels slight.
Anna: The Coen brothers have put out some of my favorite films: If Fargo or The Big Lebowski is on, I’m watching it. That being said, they don’t hit the mark 100 percent of the time, and Hail, Caesar! seems to be one of their more forgettable flicks. While it certainly has the star power to do something epic, there are almost so many top-billed cast members that they are underused. Jonah Hill appears for all of five minutes; Francis McDomand also gets a brief moment and then is not seen again. The movie tries to follow so many plot lines that the ones that deserve it don’t seem to get their due. That being said, Hail, Caesar! does have some classic Coen shots, including colorful synchronized swimming and a whimsical musical number with Channing Tatum. It also maintains their classic sense of humor; I found feuding sisters Thora and Thessaly particularly entertaining, and Ehrenreich’s Hobie dumb but endearing.
Glen: Yep, let’s not forget the Gene Kelly-style sailors-in-a-bar dance number and its glorious gay subtext led by Tatum’s Burt Gurney. And you’re right; that’s the problem—too many undeveloped storylines and characters. The Coens are artful filmmakers with a singular sense of humor and a deep knowledge of film history, and it’s because they’re so capable of greatness that the bar is set so high for each new film. Hail, Caesar! is better than 75 percent of what Hollywood churns out, but as a Coen brothers film, it rates somewhere between The Ladykillers and The Hudsucker Proxy—entertaining but not among their best. Throw in more side plots about Communists, Mannix’s home life, and his job offer from Lockheed, and you’ve got a film that mostly appeals to film critics no doubt drawn to the historical skewering of Hollywood and the homage to iconic filmmakers like Preston Sturges. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film had an impressive 79 percent ranking from critics, and a dismal 48 percent ranking from viewers. If you’re a film junky, you’ll probably enjoy this light entertainment, but I fear many will leave the theater scratching their heads and wondering what the point was.
Anna: Brolin gives a great performance as an overworked executive who loves the infuriating world of film, the prissy stars, demanding directors, and constant number of fires just waiting to be put out. In fact, all the actors gave solid performances and delivered their lines with the great sense of farce the Coens are known for. I wish the film had enough time to explore the many storylines. That being said Hail, Caesar! didn’t feel either long or short, and the story resolved with a satisfying end. While it doesn’t rank in my top movies by the genius team of Ethan and Joel Coen, Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining ride through old Hollywood. I agree that if you’re an avid moviegoer or a big fan of the Coens, it’s worth the price of admission to see it on the big screen.
Sun Screen is written by New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at email@example.com.