Movie Review: Hail, Caesar!

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A fixer at a movie studio tries to bring back a kidnapped movie star.

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Joel & Ethan Coen

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works long hours wrangling actors for a major movie studio. When the studio’s most famous leading actor, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), goes missing, Mannix races against the tight time scale of a movie production trying to get Baird back. Meanwhile, cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) struggles with a new kind of acting in a period drama and America’s sweetheart DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and needs to save face with the American public. Mannix juggles the studio’s various problems while trying to fend off prying questions from twin journalists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).

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Hail, Caesar! is a bundle of missed opportunities masquerading as a movie. There are so many elements of this movie that could come together to make something fun, but ultimately the film’s biggest problem is a lack of purpose. It has nothing to say. The movie both embraces movies and criticises them as hypocritical, but it doesn’t really come down hard on either side of the fence. There’s a moment when Mannix says that a problem to do with his son sorted itself out. The foreshadowing in the moment is heavy. That is the point at which any thinking moviegoer will realise that none of the movie’s problems are actually going to be solved by the protagonists – instead, they’ll sort themselves out, leaving the agency of the characters to chance and whimsy. When there aren’t enough laughs to buoy along a movie without a coherent plot, the movie sinks. The shooting of the movies-within-movies is where this film’s magic lies, but each film is given one (maybe two, in the case of the titular movie-within-the-movie) scene and then discarded. They’re really fun scenes, and there’s a sense that this movie could be more than it is. It’s a shame, too, because there are some good performances on display here.

The biggest waste of a great performance is Channing Tatum’s three scenes. He’s hilarious in this movie, going for broke with the physicality of singing and dancing superstar Burt Gurney, and the main plot hinges on his involvement. And he gets three scenes. I could watch his homoerotic sailor movie for hours, but after that he’s barely in the film. He doesn’t even talk in one of his scenes. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson, who I thought would be in on the main plot when I saw the trailer, is relegated to a mediocre and somewhat slut shaming side plot. She’s also giving this role her all, and she’s very good at it, but she’s given nowhere to go. Alden Ehrenreich is clearly the film’s breakout star, but even he has little effect on the plot and is not used as well as he could be. Josh Brolin is frankly boring in the lead, most of the jokes revolving around him falling flat. There’s also a very clear problem with sexism in the film – the women are all heavily tropified and given little to do. Poor Alison Pill as Mannix’s wife is a 50s sitcom caricature, and none of the women have anything to do with the main plot. Hail, Caesar! is a disappointing film that could have been vastly improved with a shift in focus.

Hail, Caesar! on IMDb

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